Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice
Tommie Smith and Derrick Barnes
Illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile
Norton Young Readers
Published September 27, 2022
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About Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice
On October 16, 1968, during the medal ceremony at the Mexico City Olympics, Tommie Smith, the gold medal winner in the 200-meter sprint, and John Carlos, the bronze medal winner, stood on the podium in black socks and raised their black-gloved fists to protest racial injustice inflicted upon African Americans. Both men were forced to leave the Olympics, received death threats, and faced ostracism and continuing economic hardships.
In his first-ever memoir for young readers, Tommie Smith looks back on his childhood growing up in rural Texas through to his stellar athletic career, culminating in his historic victory and Olympic podium protest. Cowritten with Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Author Honor recipient Derrick Barnes and illustrated with bold and muscular artwork from Emmy Award–winning illustrator Dawud Anyabwile, Victory. Stand! paints a stirring portrait of an iconic moment in Olympic history that still resonates today.
I’m trying to remember when I first learned about Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists at the 1968 Olympics. Probably in 2016 when they were invited to the White House to meet President Obama? I’m not totally sure. At any rate, I went into this book knowing only vaguely what had happened and eager to learn more. I heard about this book when the announcement came that it was on the National Book Award Longlist for Young People’s Literature. (That was in the fall of 2022… It has taken me a while to post the review!)
I really like the presentation of the story as a graphic novel. The opening few pages show Tommie Smith getting ready for the famous 1968 Olympic race he would win. As the starting gun goes off, the story jumps to the past, to Tommie’s childhood in Texas where his family work as sharecroppers.
At the close of each chapter of the past, the story snaps back to the race, creating the feel of a series of flashbacks leading up to the moment when Tommie Smith lifted his fist from his place at the top of the winner’s stand. Each snapshot of the past helps illustrate the inequality that still ran rampant through the lives of Black Americans, and why Tommie Smith protested at that critical moment.
The story also follows the country’s response to his protest and how long it took for the nation to recognize the heroism in what he did as well as the personal price he paid in the interim.
Some scenes are heartbreaking. Others were shocking. Each is carefully crafted to tell an incredibly powerful story and an unforgettable period in our history.
Having this story as a graphic novel makes it accessible to a wide variety of readers. It’s an easy book to read in terms of its construction and narrative. The illustrations are strong and emotive, adding so much depth. All in all, I totally get why this novel was longlisted for the National Book Award. It’s fantastic.
Content warning for racial slurs and brief descriptions of racist violence/murder.
Recommended for Ages 12 up.
Major characters in the story are Black.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
The N-word appears several times, used as a slur against Tommie and others.
Mentions of Tommie’s marriages.
Mentions of prayer.
One panel shows a man who has been lynched. Others reference violent response to civil rights protests. Tommie receives death threats after he states that Black athletes could boycott the Olympics because of racist treatment on college campuses and other places.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of VICTORY. STAND!: RAISING MY FIST FOR JUSTICE in exchange for my honest review.