Leuven University awards honorary doctorate to Tommie Smith and John Carlos

The Catholic University of Leuven (KUL) is to award an honorary American athletes that made history at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. It was then that 200-metre sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith took to the Olympic Podium and bowed their heads and gave the black power salute as an expression of their support for the civil rights movement. In memory of this historic event 53 years ago Leuven University’s Faculty of Movement and Rehabilitation Science is to award the two athletes, both of whom are now well into their 70’s, honorary doctorates. 

Professors Christophe Delecluse, Jan Tolleneer and Mike McNamie are the promotors of the athlete’s honorary doctorates.  In a press statement they said that "By doing this we want to honour the athletes for the ground-breaking contribution they have made in the fight for human rights and equality and against racism, injustice and poverty in society through the power of sport”.  

In a tweet the KUL’s Rector Luc Sels wrote: "Their moral courage and peaceful resistance against social injustice has for many years been a source of inspiration to many. For our university too their battle has served as an inspiration to us in our inclusion and diversity efforts”.

The two athletes' protest came just 6 months after the murder of the civil rights activist Martin Luther King. It put the Black Power Movement onto the front page of the world’s press. The protest by gold medallist Smith and bronze medallist Carlos led to them receiving death threats and they were excluded from competing as athletes. They continued as activists in the fight for racial equality in the United States and they have served as role models for generations of equal rights campaigners.



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