African American Athletes in the Civil Rights Movement: Looking at the 1968 Olympics Through the Lens of Black Power (by Errol Francis II)

TITLE: African American Athletes in the Civil Rights Movement: Looking at the 1968 Olympics Through the Lens of Black Power

STANDARDS:

Intended Grade Level: 11th – 12th Grade

Key Ideas and Details

Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

OVERVIEW:

The purpose of this lesson plan is to aid students in viewing the 1968 Olympics through a social lens to: (1) understand the racial implications surrounding many of the black athletes involved within the competition, (2) identify why many athletes were extremely willing to participate in the boycott while others were not, and (3) evaluate how actions leading up to and those eventually taken during the Games contributed to the Black Power Movement within the United States.

FRAMEWORK:

This lesson will challenge students to shed their own 21st century outlook and adopt a historical viewpoint when analyzing the attempted boycott of the 1968 Olympic Games while also investigating the role black athletes played during the attempted boycott and through the actions eventually taken during the Games. Students will be given four sources to analyze in class; two of the sources are articles from the popular 1960’s newspaper, “The Daily Defender,” and the remaining two are video sources. First, students will be asked to identify the reasoning behind and the drive for an Olympic Boycott. This requires students to draw on previous knowledge of the time period along with the information presented in the sources provided to formulate an answer. Then, Students will be asked to evaluate the pros and cons of a boycott for black athletes. This aspect of the lesson pushes students to shed their own personal outlook on the situation and to view the predicament from the perspective of an African American athlete during the 1960s. Finally, students will study the actions eventually taken by black athletes during the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games and voice their own opinions on how these actions played a part in the Black Power Movement of the period. This conclusion to the lesson should challenge the students’ critical thinking skills through their use of primary sources to support their own opinions.

ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING:

Students will understand that although all black athletes were not united and the boycott was called off, the actions taken up until the 1968 Olympics and the smaller acts of defiance committed during the games did help push black power and racial equality within the United States to the forefront of the world stage.

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

1.) What role – if any – did sports play in the civil rights/black power movement?

2.) What role did African American athletes play in the civil rights/black power movement?

3.) Were all black athletes united in the goal of achieving equality for all blacks or were there divisions among them?

4.) How did African American Athletes use the 1968 Olympics to push forward the agenda of equal rights for blacks?

5.) For the athletes who did use their sport to encourage black power, how did they manage to do so? For those who did not, why did they choose not to?

6.) Did black athletes help or hurt the black power/civil rights movement in the long run? Would the same level of success have been achieved without the aid of black athletes?

GLOSSARY:

Boycott (v.): to combine in abstaining from, or preventing dealings with, as a means of intimidation or coercion

Defiance (n.): a daring or bold resistance to authority or to any opposing force

The Olympic Games (n.): the leading international sporting event featuring summer and winter sports competitions in which thousands of athletes from around the world participate in a variety of competitions. The Olympic Games are considered to be the world’s foremost sports competition with more than 200 nations participating. These Games are held every four years in varying locations.

INTRODUCTION:

The late 1940’s to the late 1970’s was an extremely critical time period for the civil rights and black power movements within the United States. Most – if not all – African Americans during this time period all wanted to achieve one common goal: to bring an end to racial segregation and to force the incorporation of truly equal rights for people of color within the United States. Although all blacks wanted to achieve this goal, there were many different directions in which African Americans could take to accomplish it. This wide variance is best illustrated by the many civil rights and social justice organizations that were established during this time. Groups such as the NAACP, the SCLC, SNCC, CORE, and the Black Panther Party all established themselves as parties for the people, fighting for the end of racial segregation and the establishment of overall equality for African Americans across the country. Each group however had different morals, targeted distinctive groups within the African American community for membership, had dissimilar views on the incorporation of whites within their individual organizations, etc.

However, there is one particular group within the African American community that these researchers rarely touch upon: the African American athletes active during this period. Considering the fact that these individuals were black athletes during a time of racial turbulence, it’s fair to assume that they were constantly in the national spotlight and always on the mind of the American people. One of the most crucial moments in terms of African American athletes participating in 20th century social justice movements came in regards to the 1968 Summer Olympics. The civil rights movement was at it’s peak around this time period, and certain individuals saw the rare opportunity the Olympics presented for African Americans to voice their displeasures with the United States government on a world stage. This lesson will seek to view the 1968 Olympics through a social lens to: (1) understand the racial implications surrounding many of the black athletes involved within the competition, (2) identify why many athletes were extremely willing to participate in the boycott while others were not, and (3) evaluate how actions leading up to and those eventually taken during the Games contributed to the Black Power Movement within the United States.

MATERIALS:

  1. Author Explains Black Athlete Revolt
  2. Dr. King on the 1968 Olympic Boycott
  3. Label Negro Boycott Of Olympics ‘Folly’
  4. Journey of the African-American Athlete clip featuring Dr. Harry Edwards

ACTIVITIES:

1.) As a precursor to the lesson plan, the instructor should ask students about their understanding of the Olympic games and what – if anything – the Olympic games mean to them personally then what they think the Olympic games means to the nation as a whole.

2.) Next, the instructor should gage the students’ comprehension of the 1960’s. The main objective of the instructor’s questioning should be to see how aware students are of the many social justice movements were going on during this time period and compare the different levels of understanding students have.

3.) As a challenge question, the instructor can ask students to try to students connect the 1960’s with the Olympic games and think why the two would have anything in common.

4.) Students will then read “Author Explains Black Athlete Revolt” (the first item listed under the material section). Students should take time out to think on their own this the piece of media. Take a little time to write a reflection on their thoughts of the article, opinion of the boycott, what they think of the motives of the boycott, etc.

5.) Students will then get into groups of 4 – 5 and discuss what they thought of each article and share what they wrote for their reflection.

6.) The Instructor should then call everyone to attention so the article can be discussed as a class. Students should share what was touched upon in each of their smaller groups while also adding any of their personal opinions that they didn’t get to share in the smaller group.

7.) Following the class discussion, the instructor should show the Dr. King on the 1968 Olympic Boycott video (the second item listed under the material section). The video should be followed up by a short class discussion to gage the students’ thoughts on the clip.

8.) Now it’s time to get a sense of the opposition to the boycott. Students will then read “Label Negro Boycott Of Olympics ‘Folly’” (the third item listed under the material section). Students should once again take time out to think on their own about this piece of media presented. Take some time to write about the opposition to the boycott on their opinions on those against the boycott. Some questions to consider: What were some of the reasons the article presented for opposition against the boycott? What other reasons not included in the article do you think athletes had for going against the boycott? Which do you think was stronger, the argument for a boycott or the argument against a boycott?

9.) Students will then get into groups of 4 – 5 and discuss what they thought of each article and share what they wrote for their reflection.

10.) The Instructor should then call everyone to attention so the article can be discussed as a class. Students should share what was touched upon in each of their smaller groups while also adding any of their personal opinions that they didn’t get to share in the smaller group.

11.) Debate: Students break up into two groups. Group One will represent the athletes who support the boycott. Group Two will represent the athletes against the boycott. The two groups will have time to talk amongst themselves to create an argument supporting their position and develop questions that challenge their opposition. The groups will then present their arguments, starting with Group One followed by Group Two. There will be time after the arguments are presented for students to formulate more questions. After time is up, Group Two will get the opportunity to question Group One first. When Group Two has finished their questions, Group One will then get its chance to question group two. In this exercise, the teacher will see how well prepared students are in defending the viewpoint they have been selected to represent and see how students do while thinking on their toes.

12.) As a conclusion to the class, the instructor should show the last video “Journey of the African-American Athlete clip featuring Dr. Harry Edwards” (the last item listed under the materials section). Following the video there should be one last wrap up discussion to get some final thoughts on the actions taken during the 1968 Olympic Games.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:

“Edwards Boosts Sports Boycott.” Daily Defender, December 14, 1967

“Edwards Calls Olympic Boycott ‘Complete’.” Daily Defender, April 16, 1968

“Negro Athletes.” Chicago Defender, December 02, 1967

Wiggins, David Kenneth. “The Year of Awakening’: Black Athletes, Racial Unrest and the Civil Rights Movement of 1968.” The International Journal of the History of Sport 9, no. 2 (1992).

Thomas, Damion L. Globetrotting: African American Athletes and Cold War Politics. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2012.

Wiggins, David Kenneth. Glory Bound: Black Athletes in a White America. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1997.

Wiggins, David Kenneth. “‘The Struggle That Must Be: Harry Edwards, Sport and the Fight for Racial Equality.” The International Journal of the History of Sport 31, no. 7 (2014).

Smith, Maureen. “Nobody Knows My Name: Utilizing Works by Black Scholars of the 1960s to Understand the Participation of Black Athletes During the Civil Rights Movement.” Keynote Speech, North American Society for Sport History, 1996.

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