Songs and Poems

Elegy for Peter Norman

Poem. By Josh Healey.
Poem about Peter Norman, the white Australian athlete in the historic protest and iconic photo at the 1968 Olympics.

Time Periods: 20th Century, 1961
Themes: Organizing, Sports

The U.S. Track and Field Federation proclaimed Peter Norman Day as October 9, the date of his funeral in 2006. Read about Norman in this elegy by Josh Healey.

By Josh Healey

I don’t like whiteness. And as a white person looking for some heroes, it’s lonely out here. The museum’s empty. —Macon Detournay from Angry Black White Boy by Adam Mansbach

two fists
attacked the atmosphere
of Olympic Stadium
Mexico City, 1968

Tommie Smith and John Carlos
took gold and bronze
then took Black Power
center stage

that image
tacked on my bedroom wall
centered on the two men
about to receive more hate mail
than Hank Aaron and Muhammad Ali combined

you, Pete,
i barely noticed

every now and then
looked over at the silver stand and wondered
Who’s the white dude?

there you stood
hands relaxed at your sides
back standing solid
eyes straight ahead
like you knew the real prize
wasn’t hanging around your neck

i look closer
see it now:
a small patch on your chest

right before the pedestal
Tommie and John told you what to expect
you asked how you could help
and they gave you the patch:
Olympic Project for Human Rights

shit, Pete!
you had their back

two black men
fighting white
Nixon, white
CoIntelPro, white
South Africa
and you, white
dude, supported black

only to be black-
listed back home
in Australia, blacked
out of record books
and our civil rights stories

you were not the focus
of the event, or the photo,
nor should you be
but your name deserves tribute

Tommie Smith (left) and John Carlos carry Peter Norman’s coffin. Photo: Wayne Taylor.

John Brown
Schwerner and Goodman
a short list of white folks
who gave more
than moral support
and a check in the mail

after you died last week
a new picture showed
Tommie and John
arms raised high again
carrying your coffin
mourning a fallen comrade

it was more
than just the patch

over and over again, Pete,
you threw your white fist at the sky
giving black hands a chance to rest
if only for a moment

© Josh Healey, 2008 from Hammertime: Poems and Possibilities. Posted at the Zinn Education Project website by permission of the author for classroom use. For reprints or any other use, contact the author.

Related Resources

Australian Government will Issue Overdue Apology to 1968 Olympic Hero Peter Norman” by Dave Zirin. The Nation. August 18, 2012.

Salute. A 2008 Australian documentary film by Matt Norman, Peter Norman’s nephew.

3 comments on “Elegy for Peter Norman

  1. Anonymous on

    Thoughtful. I still remember. Life goes on, a hard road still, round the curve to the finish lie.
    We’re never finished.

  2. smassey on

    Just wanted you all/Josh to know that we’ll be chorally reading “Elegy” next weekend in Chicago (Feb 18-21) at the annual meeting of the North Dakota Study Group – a gathering of progressive educators, activists and organizers.

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