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KATHLEEN NEAL CLEAVER, 63
Former wife of Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver
TOMMIE SMITH, 63
Olympic gold medalist who did the Black Power salute on the victory stand
The act of the glove was about a need to be heard. The thought bloomed after a meeting of black athletes in Denver, where we decided not to boycott the Olympics, but represent ourselves according to how each of us felt about a system that did not represent us. I called my wife right after the meeting and asked her to bring me some gloves to Mexico. And she said, "Gloves? It's not cold." I said, "No, it's not, but I need gloves. I don't know what I'm going to do with them."
After I won, I thought many minutes about wearing both gloves as the national anthem started playing, or when I received my gold medal I'd throw both hands up in the air the way athletes do now, or just wear them and do nothing. Then it hit me: just use one hand, voice it to God, and pray while it's there.
On the victory stand I turned right to the flag, and then turned back, left, to the crowd. Those are military moves"very, very committed moves"because what I was doing was an American thing, freedom of expression.
A lot of black people used that victory stand as a platform from which to speak out. They saw strength, social understanding, and I think it gave athletes a power base to speak more freely than they had before. Still, after I got back to San Jose, I was an outcast. My hometown in the San Joaquin Valley really turned against my family because of what I did. That hurt me more than anything. Dead animals were put in the mailbox at our home. It really tormented my mother to the point that I believe it contributed to her death in 1970. Little did I know that that victory stand was going to be my life. And it is still evolving. "Sprinter Tommie Smith, who won the gold medal in the 200-meter dash at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, melded sports and social protest when he and his Olympic teammate, bronze medalist John Carlos, raised their black-gloved fists on the victory stand. It was an indelible image that transfixed the world and transformed Smith and Carlos into iconic figures. Smith is now an educator and coach. His website is www.tommiesmith.com.
JUDI FORD NASH, 58
Miss America, 1969
I never liked the idea that just because I was in a pageant, I was somehow not smart or that I was being exploited. I was paid for every appearance I made as Miss America, and my entire college education was paid for; I'm an elementary-school fitness instructor now, thanks to that scholarship. But looking back, I understand why they targeted the pageant. Women didn't get paid as well as men, and they were objectified. When I was 18 I didn't realize it. I was a kid. My mother had always worked. Yet when I got divorced at 37, I couldn't get a credit card in my own name, despite having a good job. I thought, "That's just not right." "Judi Ford Nash was crowned Miss America 1969 at the end of the long summer of 1968, while a women's movement protest took place on the Atlantic City boardwalk a few hundred feet away. In the 40 years since, she has managed a career as an elementary-grades gym teacher and coach"her dream job"as well as a stint as a working single mother. These days Nash says she looks back at her reign, and at that demonstration, with a mixture of nostalgia and wisdom.
ANNE JASPER, 58
Reader from Newport, North Carolina
In 1968 I graduated from high school. According to my father, girls didn't need college. No sense asking my parents to add to the small scholarship I'd won. I consoled myself knowing I was the only one of nine siblings who'd made it through high school.
I took my first full-time job in a shoe factory and moved into my own apartment. I learned to juggle the money and make it last until the end of the month. On $1.60 an hour, I learned to save a little, too. I enrolled in night computer courses but was too tired after 10-hour workdays to comprehend what was going on. I dropped out and got a new job as a keypunch operator. My father was angry when he found out I was getting $3.74 an hour, more than his hourly pay after 40 years on the same job as a truck driver. I bought my first car, a 1954 DeSoto, and stopped walking to work. I learned about car insurance and vehicle registration. Although I was definitely not ignorant of the political events that were changing the world, it all seemed far removed from me as a woman struggling to make my own way.
BENNY STEWART, 63
Fought to establish the first Black Studies Department in the U.S.
I didn't have any clear-cut idea how long the strike would take, or that we were about to make history. But I knew the struggle to establish a Black Studies Department would be protracted.
Tactically, the inspiration came from this book called The War of the Flea. Although a dog is much bigger than a flea, as long as a flea never confronts the dog head on, but uses his size and mobility to hit and move, then most dogs can't deal with a flea. So that was our strategy"not to do it in one day but to keep coming back, day after day.
I had mixed emotions at the end. The strike ended on March 20, and my first child, my daughter, Rhayeka, was born at 10:15 a.m. the next day. Many of us were still facing jail time. There had been injuries, but overall we had come a long way from where we started. And it had a hell of an influence on me. I got a B.A. degree in history. But the experience that really made me different was learning to organize. That I have used ever since to bring people together. "Benny Stewart served as chairman of the Black Students Union at San Francisco State College (now University) in 1968, and he was one of the major organizers of a 120-day student strike"from November 6, 1968, to March 20, 1969"that was the longest in American history. The strike led to the establishment of the country's first Black Studies Department and School of Ethnic Studies in 1969. Today, Stewart is staff consultant to the Marin City Community Land Corporation in Marin City, California.
BARBARA GRIER, 74
Writer, editor, publisher, lesbian activist
When I became editor of The Ladder in 1968, after writing for it for years (often under a male pseudonym), I was at the place where everything that mattered to me"being a lesbian, being a feminist, and loving the printed word" intersected. The world at large was in such ferment, and often in great sorrow. After the assassinations, you had to weep at the loss. You had to ask, "What can I do in this world?" If I accomplished anything, it was moving lesbian writers out of the shadows into greater acceptance, ultimately earning literary criticism from "real" critics. But I'm not naive about reality. Homosexuals are still the fear of the world. It's acceptable to oppress us; we're the last group it's okay to hate.