John Carlos raised his fist in protest of racism while receiving a bronze medal at the 1968 Summer Olympics

By Eric Todisco
February 03, 2021 01:50 PM

Former Olympic sprinter John Carlos, who protested racial injustice during the 1968 Summer Olympics in what became an iconic and powerful moment in history, knows that the fight for equality is far from over.

In PEOPLE's exclusive clip of Wednsday's Nightly News with Lester Holt, Carlos, 75, is joined by WNBA player Nneka Ogwumike in an interview with NBC News' Morgan Radford, where they discuss the current state of racial inequality in the Black community.

"It's amazing that we are fighting the same issues today as I fought 53 years ago," the Bronze medalist says.

Five decades ago, Carlos and fellow Olympian Tommie Smith were receiving their medals on the podium at the Mexico City Olympics when they broke protocol and raised their gloved fists in the air during the national anthem to protest racism and discrimination.

The demonstration caused an uproar back in the United States. But it also inspired people to join the fight for equality that continues today.

"The Black athletes, in particular, have always been on the forefront of lookin' for justice and equality," Carlos tells Radford. "Not just merely for themselves and the athletic field. But throughout society, throughout life."

"And now society's saying, 'Yes, we in back of you,' " he adds. " 'We support you. We understand you.' "

John Carlos
| Credit: Jamie Schwaberow/Getty
John Carlos
| Credit: Tony Avelar/AP/Shutterstock

Ogwumike, 30, says that while she can acknowledge progress has been made in inclusion and equality for all in the U.S., there is still a lot more work that needs to be done.

"You know, so one could say, 'Oh there's Black athletes, you know, there's Black presidents, there's Black coaches.' But I like to indulge in the conversation where we dig a little deeper," the Nigerian-American athlete says. "Who's hiring these Black athletes? And those people that still don't reflect the society we see every day then the job is not getting done."

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Due to their protest at the 1968 Summer Olympics, Carlos and Smith were immediately expelled from the rest of the Games by United States Olympic Committee and given 48-hour notice to leave.

In the years that followed, both athletes were excluded from Olympic activities.

Tommie Smith, John Carlos

But in November 2019, both men were inducted into the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame as a celebration of the courage they showed nearly 53 years ago.

"It sends the message that maybe we had to go back in time and make some conscious decisions about whether we were right or wrong," Carlos told USA Today after the announcement. "They've come to the conclusion that, 'Hey man, we were wrong. We were off-base in terms of humanity relative to the human rights era.' "

Carlos' interview on Nightly News with Lester Holt airs Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. ET.

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