The 1968 Exhibit: The Black Arts Movement, 68' Summer Olympics, and Fashion

Truly inspiring are reflections I've read on your site like the "Naomi Sims magazine cover, Soul on Ice, The Summer of Hate, and Jose Feliciano's  singing the National Anthem". I am currently taking a history course that offers a plethora of information on times in the 60's, and when my uncle heard that I would be posting my own reflection, he encouraged me to research what he was a part of during that time. He was a member of the Black Arts Movement (BAM). It was founded by Harlemite Amiri Baraka who is a writer and activist that illuminated the empowerment and education of African Americans through cultural, religious, and political sectors of life as Africans and Americans. My uncle is a poet and spoken word pioneer that had many connections with Baraka and has defined him as "profoundly gifted". 


"Gifted" is a word that I will continue to recognize in blacks, especially regarding the courage displayed at the 68' Summer Olympics when gold and bronze medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos accepted their victories and each placed one fist in the air as a symbol of black power and pride. I was informed that as they descended from the podiums, they were booed and later ostracized by magazine articles, athletic associations, and peers for their acts that day. It eventually led them to alternative career paths like professional football, coaching , and public speaking however, they still manage to send messages of strength and endurance as advocates for civil rights through those areas of success. They also wore symbols around their necks and hands indicating different plights and struggles of African Americans, which now can be worn as adornments in the fashion industry.


I too enjoy making my own fashion statements and was moved when I read about changes in the fashion scene in the latter 60's. Hemlines went from "maxi" to "mini" and it became daring to demonstrate the "mid-calf" length skirts during wartime. Vintage crossed the seas and gained popularity in the American fashion couture, and looks went timeless like the straight-cut-wide-leg slack with high-waist belted jackets which can still be found in many department stores across the country. Women in the black community took pride in Afros and gaudy jeweled accessories as to say they took pride in their appearance, but remained classy in their convictions. Men steeped out of the typical "salesman" look and made a point of adding prints and patterns to their wardrobes. And boy, did hair grow everywhere!!! Men and women to the initiative of growing long hair, some say as a sign of societal defiance or was it simply  embracing their definition of being free from all of the madness going on then?


As I continue to learn about numerous areas during that era, as a grandchild of the 60's I will continue to pass information given to me to today's youth in hopes that they remember the struggles of their great grandfathers and mothers so they can build resilience and help us take better care of our world and the people in it.


Thank you,


M. Blanton

Reflection by: Maisah