During the 19th Olympic Games in 1968 held in Mexico City, two Black American track and field sprinters won the gold and bronze medals in their field, setting new World records. When it was time to receive their medals, both Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and raised their fists in solidarity for Black and human rights, as the Star Spangled Banner played in the background. They both got up to the medal podiums with no shoes, but wearing black socks in representation of Black poverty, Carlos wore his suit unzipped in solidarity with American blue-collar workers, as well as a beaded necklace to represent those who have been murdered and were left behind without proper respect or reverence. Smith also had a black scarf on, to portray Black Pride. Joining the two Americans, Australian silver medalist Peter Norman wore human rights symbols on their jacket. Photographer John Dominis captured the striking photograph that made it to the front page of newspapers Worldwide, making it one of the most famous sports images in history. To this day, this protest is considered to be one of the most impactful political statements in Olympic history.
The manifestation was deeply important in the time of political turmoil, and a firestarter for similar events happening in American Football recently. This is constant proof of the cyclical nature of Humanity. The gesture, much like the recent ones, was heavily criticized by both the public and Olympic representatives. The track stars were even booed off by the stadium public. The International Olympic Committee spoke against the athletes’ actions, calling it to be an unfit political statement in an apolitical setting like The Olympics. They were suspended from the US Team and banned from the Olympic Village. The US Olympic Committee refused to oblige, resulting in a threat to ban the entire US team from the games, and this led to the expulsion of both Smith and Carlos. Through time, their actions have been recognized and revered for opening doors of equality and human rights in Sports, specifically for Black athletes.
Golden Globe Award winner Kemp Powers (Disney/Pixar’s Academy Award–winning animated feature Soul, Amazon’s Academy Award–nominated feature adaptation One Night in Miami) wrote The XIXth (The Nineteenth), a suspenseful play based on the historical protest and how sports, politics, and racial issues shape the lives and careers of these brave athletes. The Old Globe is proudly producing the politically and racially charged piece beginning performances mid-March through mid-April at the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center in San Diego’s Balboa Park.
The play will be directed by NAACP Award winner Carl Cofield (Classical Theatre of Harlem’s New York Times Critics Picks Seize the King and The Bacchae)
“The Nineteenth takes one of the most famous images in the history of sports and asks what makes it so indelible,” explains Artistic Director Barry Edelstein. “Playwright Kemp Powers, one of the most exciting storytellers working onstage and on screen today, looks at that image and sets his significant imagination to work. The result is the kind of play I love: driven by passion, full of drama, and focused on big American themes. Directed with verve and insight by Carl Cofield, it’s a striking evening in the theatre, and I’m thrilled to share it with Globe audiences.”
The cast for The XIXth includes Patrick Marron Ball as Pete, Christian Coulson as Neville, Michael Early as Jesse Owens, Biko Eisen-Martin as John Carlos (Los), Korey Jackson as Tommie, Kimberly Scott as Dora, and Nick Wyman as Avery.
Understudies include Manny Fernandes as Avery, Sarah Joyce as Dora, Jeffrey Rashad as John Carlos (Los), Vandous Stripling II as Tommie, Jude Tibeau as Jesse Owens, and Michael Underhill as Pete and Neville.
Rounding up the production are creatives Riw Rakkulchon (Scenic Design), Mika Eubanks (Costume Design), Allen Lee Hughes (Lighting Design), David R. Molina (Original Music and Sound Design), Caparelliotis Casting (Casting), Marie Jahelka (Production Stage Manager), and Kendra Stockton (Assistant Stage Manager).
The first major production of a play with this theme, during this specific time in history proves to be extremely relevant and necessary for audiences to experience. Major kudos to The Old Globe, for producing important social and politically driven work, this will be, without a doubt, a powerful piece that deserves our support and attention.
The XIXth (The Nineteenth) is presented by The Old Globe Theatre with performances March 17 through April 23 at the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage in The Conrad Prebys Theatre Center. Tickets and info: https://www.theoldglobe.org/pdp/23-season/the-xixth/#?startDate=2023-03-01&%3FendDate=2023-03-31