Australia's Unsung Hero - Peter Norman

10/09/2017

Today I enjoyed an inspirational lunch hour honouring Peter Norman Human Rights Day – a celebration for an Australian Olympic champion and unsung hero of the civil rights movement!

Held outside of Melbourne Town Hall by the Peter Norman Commemoration Committee and led by Dr Joseph Toscano, it was wonderful to see people acknowledging the unrecognised Aussie icon, Peter Norman.

Unbeknownst to many Australians and Melburnians, Peter Norman, a Coburg local, was the third man in the iconic 1968 Olympics Black Power salute and suffered ridicule because of his involvement for the rest of his life.

In 1968 Norman took his running talent to the Mexico Olympics where he placed second in the 200-metre sprint, winning silver, and till this day still holds the Australian 200-metres record with a time of 20.06 seconds.

Following his win, he was approached by the Gold and Bronze medallists, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who told Norman they were going to use the medal presentation podium as a platform to promote the civil rights cause. Instead of shying away from the peaceful protest, Norman’s response was "I will stand with you". So, the iconic moment was photographed with Norman proudly wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge while on the podium, standing alongside while Smith and Carlos raised their fists in a civil rights salute.

Sadly, Norman returned home to Australia to be shunned and vilified for his peaceful protest for civil rights, a pariah until the day he died. He was never recognised for his Olympic accomplishment (even though his time still stands as the Australian record) and more importantly, never recognised for the courageous stance he took that day with fellow competitors Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

Following his actions, Norman never competed in the Olympics again with the Australian Olympics Committee banning him from taking part in the 1972 games. They maintained their disfavour throughout Norman’s life, and did not invite him to take part in the 2000 Sydney Olympic celebrations. Instead, he attended as a guest of the US Track and Field Federation.

Even throughout lifelong ridicule, Norman maintained his humility and solidarity with Tommie Smith and John Carlos and the cause by refusing to be included in a statue recreation of the Olympic podium at San Jose State University. He asked for his place to remain empty so that others could "Take a Stand" for justice as well.

The US Track and Field Federation declared October 9th as ‘Peter Norman Day’ following his funeral in Melbourne on the same date. Smith and Carlos both acted as pall bearers and delivered eulogies as part of his service.

It is heartbreaking to think someone who participated in one of the 20th century’s most iconic sporting moments, who was so brave, caring, and committed to equality and justice, faced ridicule and disdain for their entire life.

In a time where bigotry, racial discrimination and hate groups seem to be gaining momentum, we need to remember what Peter Norman knew, we’re all people and regardless of background, status, wealth, we should treat each other with love, kindness and respect. 

A big thank you and best wishes to the Peter Norman Commemoration Committee in their campaign for an interactive monument to be placed in Melbourne City Square not only to celebrate Peter Norman and his contribution to the civil rights movement, but also to remind Australians of the stand we should take in our own lives.

xx


Image 3 Source: Atlanta Black Star

Image 4 Source: SMH

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