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Letters from Wiltshire #21
Written by wessex_exile on Wednesday, 9th Dec 2020 18:01

So here we are. What should have been a celebration of the faithful returning to the stadium, a fantastic debut by our new junior Junior (just 16 years of age), and indeed a hard-fought victory against tough opposition, has unfortunately been overshadowed by a very small minority who decided to boo our multi-racial team who [b][u]ALL[/u][/b] chose to take a knee against racism. Needless to say, following on from a similarly reaction from the notoriously intolerant Millwall supporters, we’re now on the front page of football websites. Thankfully, this has been in the context of our Chairman’s splendid response, which basically said if you don’t like it, go away because we don’t want you – bravo Robbie Cowling!


[b]Black Lives Matter[/b]

As a result, I make no apologies about this blog, because as far as I’m concerned, I need to say this. No Matches of Yesteryear recollections, no personal memories of games past, just this.

I’m certainly not qualified to present an in-depth analysis of the Black Lives Matter movement, though I seriously doubt Marx would agree that they are a Marxist organisation – I’d actually quite like to know how those that use the expression have actually concluded it is ‘Marxist’, but maybe that’s a question for another day? As I’m white, I’m not going to try and open some label ‘cultural appropriation’, or worse, and a vast array of other pejorative slurs have emerged for anyone who has the temerity to try and do so – libtards, triggered, snowflakes, ‘woke’ etc. We’ve all seen them, how much they’ve proliferated when Obama became the first black President of the US, and exponentially so since Trump’s succession.

The EFL have today reinforced their [i]Not today or any day[/i] message, hopefully as a timely reminder that the purpose here is to send out the message that discrimination in any form is unacceptable, not aligning oneself with a quasi-political organisation.


The BLM movement began in 2013 as the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media, following the acquittal of George Zimmerman on the fatal shooting of 17-year old unarmed Trayvon Martin. In 2012 Zimmerman was the neighbourhood watch coordinator for Twin Lakes gated community, where Martin was staying at the time. Zimmerman was taken into custody but released after five hours, claiming the shooting was self-defence (as with most US states, Florida has a [i]Stand Your Ground[/i] statute). It would be six more weeks before he was arrested and charged with murder, the trial starting in June 2013, with Zimmerman acquitted the following month.

The decision sparked outrage across the US, and indeed around the globe, and the resultant demonstrations and protests gave rise to the BLM movement, created by three women Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. Since then, the BLM movement have actively protested against a wide range of incidents involving racially motivated violence against blacks, invariably involving police brutality or deaths in police custody. These protests gained a world-wide reach following the death of George Floyd, when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for a reported 8 minutes and 46 seconds, whilst Floyd repeatedly gasped that he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin was sacked the next day, and his trial for 2nd degree unintentional murder and 2nd degree manslaughter is pending.

However, in reality the BLM movement, and in particular ‘taking the knee’ is simply a continuance of the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, and the struggle by African Americans and like-minded allies to bring an end to institutional racial discrimination and segregation. Remarkably, when Lincoln brought an end to slavery following the American Civil War. African American men did have the vote, and held public office. It didn’t last and before too long the so-called “Jim Crow” laws systematically stripped blacks of their civil rights, and brought in enforced racial segregation in public facilities, transportation, education etc., against a backdrop of abuse, assault, rape, false imprisonment and of course lynching.

Following a series of nonviolent mass protests throughout the 50s and early 60s, and the assassination of John F Kennedy in November 1963, President Lyndon B Johnson pushed the [i]Civil Rights Act[/i] forward, which was eventually enacted in July 1964. Whilst this should have been the catalyst for improved civil rights and equality for African Americans and people of colour, there was still significant discrimination in some states, and in particular systematic denial of voting rights. Following, amongst others, the televised “[i]Bloody Sunday[/i]” assaults by Alabama State Troopers on peaceful protestors lead by Martin Luther King marching from Selma to Montgomery to demand their constitutional right to vote, Johnson eventually passed the 1965 [i]Voting Rights Act[/i].

On this bill and trying to carry it forward through Congress, Johnson said in his televised speech:
“[i]Even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause, too, because it is not just Negroes but really it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.[/i]”

Racial tension still remained, nothing was solved overnight, and in 1968 Martin Luther King was assassinated by James Earl Ray whilst standing on the balcony outside room 306 at Lorraine Motel in Memphis. It was 6:01pm on 4th April 1968, and King was only 39 years old. His death led to a nationwide wave of race riots throughout the US and sent shockwaves around the world. Ray was eventually caught attempting to flee at Heathrow Airport two months later and having pleaded guilty to avoid the possibility of a trial and resultant death sentence if found guilty, was sentenced to a 99-year prison term. He spent his time in prison repeatedly and unsuccessfully trying to withdraw his guilty plea, and died in 1998, aged 70.

Later that year in October, the 19th Olympic Games was hosted by Mexico – the first time the games were held in Latin America. With feelings still running high not just in the US, but worldwide, concerning civil rights and racial equality, the medal ceremony for the 200m final certainly caught the public’s imagination. Winner Tommie Smith and bronze medallist John Carlos, both members of the [i]Olympic Project for Human Rights[/i] decided to show solidarity with the [i]Black Freedom Movement[/i] in the US, with a gloved raised fist salute during the national anthem, heads bowed and wearing just black socks without shoes. Tommie Smith later emphasised in his autobiography that it was a human rights salute, not a black power gesture.

IOC president Avery Brundage was furious, deeming it a political statement unfit for the Olympic Games (sounds familiar), and demanded that Smith and Carlos were suspended from the US team and expelled from the Olympic village. To their credit, the US Olympic Committee flatly refused, to which Brundage then threatened to expel the entire US track team, and inevitably and eventually Smith and Carlos were thrown out of the Olympic team.

However, the story of Australian silver medallist Peter Norman is an equally tragic tale. In solidarity with Smith and Carlos, Norman also wore an [i]Olympic Project for Human Rights[/i] badge for the ceremony, and when Smith and Carlos realised they only had one pair of black gloves between them, it was Norman’s suggestion they wear one each – which certainly added to the visual impact of the gesture. Norman had temporarily set an Olympic record in his heat, with a time of 20.17 seconds, and in coming second in the final with a time of 20.06 seconds, set an all-time personal best and still the record within countries that form the Oceania Athletics Association.

Opinions differ about how Peter Norman was received when he returned home, but many claim it was very much as a pariah. The Australian Olympic Committee deny this and maintain that apart from a rebuke on the day of the ceremony, no further punishment was meted out. Norman was not selected for the 1972 Olympics, despite running several qualifying times between 1969 and 1971 – albeit he only finished 3rd in the 1972 Australian Athletics Championships. Tellingly, when Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympics, he was pointedly excluded from an invitation as a former Olympian by the AOC. When the US Olympic Committee heard about this, he was invited to join their Olympic team as an honorary guest. When San Jose State University erected a statue of the medal ceremony salute, Norman had asked to not be included so that others viewing the podium could use his place to take a stand against racism.

Peter Norman died of a heart attack on 3rd October 2006, aged 64, and on the 9th October the US Track and Field Federation declared the day Peter Norman Day. Both Tommie Smith and John Carlos attended the funeral, gave eulogies, and were pallbearers. In August 2012 the Australian House of Representatives debated a motion to issue a posthumous apology to Norman, which was eventually passed as follows:

[b]15 PETER NORMAN[/b]
The order of the day having been read for the resumption of the debate on the motion of Dr Leigh — That this House:
[b](1)[/b] [i]recognises the extraordinary athletic achievements of the late Peter Norman, who won the silver medal in the 200 metres sprint running event at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, in a time of 20.06 seconds, which still stands as the Australian record[/i];
[b](2)[/b] [i]acknowledges the bravery of Peter Norman in donning an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on the podium, in solidarity with African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who gave the 'black power' salute[/i];
[b](3)[/b] [i]apologises to Peter Norman for the treatment he received upon his return to Australia, and the failure to fully recognise his inspirational role before his untimely death in 2006[/i]; and
[b](4)[/b] [i]belatedly recognises the powerful role that Peter Norman played in furthering racial equality[/i].

Over 50 years later, and it’s faintly depressing that we don’t seem to have moved on much at all…

Up the U’s

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