“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.”(William Faulkner). A picture is worth more than a thousand words, especially when it correlates to such a powerful movement like the Black Panther Party. In the past week or so, I've been brainstorming and searching for ideas as to what I want to base my research paper on, and I've decided to analyze a specific artwork done by Emory Douglas. Emory Douglas was a minister and graphic designer for the Black Panther Party. Known for his poignant artistry, Emory Douglas, used and manipulated art to capture the hearts and minds of African-Americans that struggled against racism, discrimination, and brutality.
One the greatest images of his collection that stood out the most to me was, the illustration of John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s reenactment at the 1968 Summer Olympics. “Smith and Carlos made me understand that athletes were not removed from the fray; in fact, their visibility and contact with the public allows a certain opportunity to speak loudly.”(Rhoden N.Y. Times) Both Tommie Smith and John Carlos represented the United States in track and field, and each respectively won the Gold and Bronze medal. During their acceptance, Smith and Carlos proceeded to raise their clinched fists in black gloves while the Star Spangled Banner played, to showcase black power and unity. This representation speaks volumes of significance, bravery, and determination despite the negative criticism both men received for standing up for what they believed in.
“Revolutionary art gives a physical confrontation with the tyrants, and also strengthens people to continue their vigorous attack. Revolutionary art is a tool for liberation.”(Doss New Political Science) Emory Douglas’s goal from the very beginning of his drawings was to ignite the masses with awareness and information about the African-American struggles in the United States. The drawing of both Tommie Smith and John Carlos depicts the true nature about this nation; oppression, inferiority, and exploitation. What’s even more nerve wrecking is the fact that these two men strived to be the best athletes, won medals for this nation, and at the end they received backlash because they were not afraid to confront the issues afflicting African-Americans. The correlation between Douglas, Smith, and Carlos doesn’t only lie within their color, race, or creed but with the same struggles and fights of racial equality and justice.
“In retrospect, the ’68 Olympics hadn’t planted a seed for political or social consciousness. Anyone who was raised in a large United States city in 1968 had to work awfully hard to not be aware of political currents.”(Rhoden N.Y. Times) When I first encountered the drawing at the New Museum it felt like I was a part of the revolution. The image is captivating because it allows you to envision how America systemically enforces those who choose to speak out about the negatives. The image subconsciously invokes the pattern of an African-American running for freedom, but when he reaches the finish line he’s being reprimanded for running for freedom. Meaning that no matter if they won for the sake of their country at the end of day they are still looked upon as inferior because of who they are.
“The black fist is a meaningless symbol. When you open it, you have nothing but fingers-weak, empty fingers. The only time the black fist has significance is when there’s money inside. There’s where the power lies.” (Sports on the Edge of Panic) Jesse Owens, track legend and winner of a four gold medals in the 1939 Olympic Games in Berlin, critiqued both Smith and Carlos for their brash political stand because he too faced adversity during his Olympic outing. He personally felt that there was no place in the world of athletics for politics. Jesse Owens wasn’t the only prominent African-American athlete to speak out about Carlos and Smith’s agenda, Joe Louis even made comments, “Whenever you have a chance to do something for your country you should do it.” (Sports on the Edge of Panic) Furthermore, both men did not lose their medals, but they were both ostracized by the Olympics committee, fellow African-American boxer George Foreman, and many others.
Contrary to the remarks and bad criticism that they were receiving, many people from around the country showed great expression and solidarity around their cause. “We are facing the greatest crisis in sports history.” (Hartmann Sports on the Edge of Panic)