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Silent GestureSilent Gesture

The Autobiography of Tommie Smith

Tommie Smith

Named one of two “Adult Nonfiction Honor Books” by The Black Caucus of the American Library Association; Nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category “Outstanding Literary Work"

Narrated by Derrick Hardin

Available from Audible

Book published by Temple University Press

At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Tommie Smith and his teammate John Carlos came in first and third, respectively, in the 200-meter dash. As they received their medals, each man raised a black-gloved fist, creating an image that will always stand as an iconic representation of the complicated conflations of race, politics, and sports. In this, his autobiography, Smith fills out the story around that moment—how it came to be and where it led him.

Smith engagingly describes his life-long commitment to athletics, education, and human rights. He also dispels some of the myths surrounding his famous gesture of protest: contrary to legend, Smith was not a member of the Black Panthers, nor were his medals taken back by the Olympic Committee. Retelling the fear he felt in planning and carrying out his protest, the death threats against him, his difficulty in finding work, and his determination to live his values, he conveys the long, painful backlash that came with his fame, and his fate, all of which was wrapped up in his "silent gesture."

Silent Gesture was written with David Steele, recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Baltimore's Association of Black Media Workers, for his columns in The Baltimore Sun and San Francisco Chronicle.

Tommie Smith is the only man in track-and-field history to hold 11 world records simultaneously, and the first man in Olympic Games history to win a gold medal in record-breaking time in the 200-meter, under 20 seconds. He has been an educator and a track-and-field coach for 40 years.


“In a season of discontent and tragedy, at a time when there was so little reason for hopefulness, Tommie Smith refused to be cowed. Risking nothing less than their futures, he and John Carlos made a statement that could not be ignored. Finally, Smith tells us his story, a story as significant as any ever told by an athlete. Silent Gesture will be invaluable to anyone who hopes to understand a turbulent time and an act of true courage.”

—Jeremy Schaap, author of Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics and Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History

“An important entry in the history of track and field and African American studies.”

Library Journal

“His experiences at the Olympics [are] described so vividly that readers will feel as if they're witnessing it unfold themselves...Smith's candid reflections on life after Mexico City is compelling. Most striking, though, are revelations about the stresses he endured before the 1968 race. For Smith, at 24, to have not only won the gold, but to have issued his anything-but-silent gesture from the world's biggest stage, makes his story all the more extraordinary.”

Black Issues Book Review

“Smith offers a well-documented and clearly written story behind the memorable 1968 Olympic moment…Recommended.”


“What is the worth of this book? I believe it to be one that accurately portrays Tommie Smith’s life and Olympic ordeal….We have waited a long time for this book. The result is worth the delay….Silent Gesture provides, by far, the most powerful punctuation mark in explaining one of the most historic of all Olympic moments. ”

Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies

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