Dear Tommie Smith: Twenty-five years ago he celebrated Olympic gold with a black power salute. The MP for Brent South thanks him

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I was 17, hated sport, couldn't run to save my life. I felt I might have to learn to run that year, 1968. Enoch Powell had said the country of my birth could never be my home. Never ever. Some yobs on the way back from school had shouted at me from a van. They called me nigger and told me to go back home.

Twenty-five years on, Tommie, I still cry when I recall the moment when you stood on the podium in Mexico City, and you raised your gloved fist in the black power salute, proud and beautiful. It was a rite of passage for me and for countless other young black guys all over the world. You could have draped yourself in the flag. Many others did and still do. You chose instead with another brother, John Carlos, to stand on that podium and give the sign. They got the message and so did we. It was a moment that changed the world. I cried with joy and pride. I'm still no good at sport but because of you I walk taller and don't intend to run, not now, not ever.

Rivers of blood did run that year. Lots of it was black and that of those who stood with us against racism in your country and in southern Africa. So much has changed since then, hasn't it? This year a black man, American son of West Indian parents, retired as chief of staff of the US Army and Nelson Mandela addressed the UN as the president-to-be of a free South Africa. You played your part, Tommie, in making that happen. But blood still runs.

In my own country, though, the rivers of blood never came. There are enough here, black and white, determined they never shall. Many will march this weekend to show that we will not tolerate the cheapening of anyone's life, and that for us there is to be no running away. Blood still trickles, though we laid wreaths outside the Home Office this week for victims of racist murders. The powers that be must listen. You made them listen, Tommie. You were right, it's not enough for a black man just to win.

I wonder if it is possible for a white person to know what it was we felt on that day. It was as if in a single gesture a terrible weight had been loosened from our back. No wonder they never allowed you to run for your country again. No wonder you were denied the wealth and employment that was your due.

There is something we black people say in this country when we hold someone in special regard, and yeah, maybe some white people say it too, for we share our language, and it is simply this: 'Respect, brother . . . respect.' That's what I feel for you. Respect.

(Photograph omitted)

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