Date of Award

2-18-2009

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

First Advisor

Jacqueline A. Rouse, Ph D - Committee Chair

Second Advisor

Akinyele K. Umoja, Ph D - Committee Member

Third Advisor

Ian C. Fletcher Ph D - Committee Member

Abstract

The dissertation examines the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), a Black Power attempt to build a black boycott of the 1968 US Olympic team that ultimately culminated in the infamous Black Power fists protest at the 1968 Olympics. The work challenges the historiography, which concludes that the OPHR was a failure because most black Olympic-caliber athletes participated in the 1968 games, by demonstrating that the foremost purpose of the OPHR was to raise public awareness of “institutionalized racism,” the accumulation of poverty and structural and cultural racism that continued to denigrate black life following landmark 1960s civil rights legislation. Additionally, the dissertation demonstrates that activist black athletes of the era were also protesting the lack of agency and discrimination traditionally forced upon blacks in integrated, yet white-controlled sports institutions. The dissertation argues that such movements for “dignity and humanity,” as progressive black activists of the 1960s termed it, were a significant component of the Black Power movement. The dissertation also examines the proliferation of the social belief that the accomplishments of blacks in white-controlled sports fostered black advancement and argues that the belief has origins in post-Reconstruction traditional black uplift ideology, which suggested that blacks who demonstrated “character” and “manliness” improved whites’ images of blacks, thus advancing the race. OPHR activists argued that the belief, axiomatic by 1968, was the foremost obstacle to attracting support for a black Olympic boycott. The manuscript concludes with a discussion of the competing meaning and representations of Smith and Carlos’s protest at the Olympics.

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