Black Panther salute is still powerful

Posted 13:00, 25 Jul 2008
By: Anita Morris

John Carlos and Tommie Smith couldn’t have known that their Black Panther salute at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico would still be causing controversy, forty years later in Manchester. The story, picked up by the Daily Mail, has sent the people behind the project back to the drawing board, ditching the designs put forward in consultation with local young people, amid accusations of racism.

Black Panther salute 1968 OlympicsOne of the complainants suggests that a sculpture of a tennis ball would be more appropriate (the site is located near to a youth centre). Certainly less controversial but shouldn’t art in public places sometimes make us think? If art can spark a proper debate about racism, isn’t that a good thing?

Is the problem with this project simply that some people were consulted and not others? Or is it the context that is wrong?

Manchester’s Urbis is bringing the art work of Emory Douglas – and the man himself – over to the city later this year, so maybe Mancunians will be able to make up their own minds about whether the salute ever was racist, and to trace the enduring legacy of this powerful image.