In September, after his successful organization of a black student movement at San Jose State (CA) College (SJS), Harry Edwards, a part-time sociology instructor and a former student-athlete, began organizing a black Olympic boycott as a protest against institutionalized racism. Smith, who was a student at SJS, and Carlos, who arrived in San Jose in January 1968, were among the first Olympic- caliber athletes to support the OPHR.
Despite the OPHR’s efforts to link the campaign to the black struggle against institutionalized racism, the majority of the mainstream media labeled the proposed boycott unpatriotic, unnecessarily militant, and in a few quarters, a communist plot. Vice-president and Democratic Party presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey condemned the OPHR, and leaders of the NAACP and Urban League also distanced their organizations from the proposal. Edwards and the OPHR struggled against the mainstream’s perception to attract support to the campaign.
The OPHR, however, obtained endorsements from a wide variety of civil rights and black activists, including liberals, nationalists, and progressives. The most notable was Martin Luther King Jr., who joined Edwards at a New York City press conference in December 1967 to endorse the campaign. King noted that the campaign’s emphasis on eliminating institutionalized racism was representative of the next phase of the black freedom struggle. Many liberal black newspapers and former Brooklyn Dodger great and baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson also endorsed the OPHR for similar reasons. Nationalists, including the Nation of Islam and H. Rap Brown, and socialists, including The Daily Worker and William Patterson, unsurprisingly, also endorsed the campaign, if only because even a partially successful boycott would embarrass the United States.
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