The Conference on College Composition and Communication will feature John Carlos! The conference theme “The Public Work of Composition,” which seems absolutely fitting, don’t you think? That’s certainly what I thought the moment of picked up the CFP for CCCC 2013 last April. There, sitting at a sidewalk cafe in St. Louis, Missouri, still buzzing with the excitement and sheer exhaustion of CCCC 2012, I set to work on my proposal for the next year’s meeting–not because I am the sort who plans a year ahead but because CCCC review cycles require it. I knew I wanted to share something form our digital humanities project featured at this blog (Remixing Rural Texas). I knew I wanted to include at least one of the local activists featured in our remixes: Joe Tave (ETSU, 1965-1969), founder and president of the highly influential Afro-American Student Society of East Texas in 1968; John Carlos, the sprinter from Harlem who was introduced to both racism in the South (directly) and the Olympic Project for Human Rights (in a national sports magazine) while a student on this campus in 1966-1967, both of which would change his life.
John Carlos, I told myself, would be a perfect keynoter for us. That theme couldn’t be more perfect! But how are keynoters selected? I had no idea. I went back to my hotel, packed up the rental car, then sat down in the lobby to see what Howard Tinberg thought about it. As chair of CCCC 2013, he was responsible for that beautiful CFP that got me thinking in these ways. And a really nice, generous man. Why not? I wasn’t certain Dr. Carlos would be available, but he has always been so incredibly generous and willing to take on just about any kooky idea I might come up with.
Howard was on board. Carlos was on board. Howard asked for a proposal, which he could share with the CCCC EB. That turned into the abstract, which promotes the featured session. I get the opportunity to chair. I can’t wait! (Carlos will also be joining us at the Writing Democracy workshop the previous Wednesday and in our panel session Saturday–and so will Joe Tave! What a great event this will be!).–Shannon Carter
The Silent Protest: Open Hands, Closed Fists, and Composition’s Political Turn
Chair: Shannon Carter, Texas A&M-Commerce
In 1968, at the Mexico City Olympics, sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith called the world’s attention to the persistence of racism. That single iconic image of two Americans, black-gloved fists raised and heads bowed as the national anthem played and millions booed, remains indelibly etched in our collective memory.
In 2013, as Howard Tinberg calls upon us to consider “The Public Work of Composition,” it seems only fitting that we should return to this moment in conversation with one of the protesters: Dr. John Carlos. Indeed, the silent protest and its aftermath graphically illustrates both the power of what Edward Corbett called “the Closed Fist” and the excruciating limits of his “Open Hand” (CCC, 1969). It also calls upon us to consider our organization’s shifting position on the relationship between the composition classroom and the rest of society: our neighborhoods, communities, regions, America, and the world.
Yet for decades the individuals behind the Silent Protest have been rendered silent, effectively removed from any public discourse controlling the meaning of that powerful statement. Until very recently, the mass movements represented in that moment were largely absent from our public spaces and our conferences. We have been “civil”—our firsts closed, hands open. Silent. Compliant. As Nancy Welch has argued “civility functions to hold in check agitation against a social order that is undemocratic in access to decision-making voice and unequal in distribution of wealth” (“In Defense of Uncivil Rhetoric,” forthcoming).
No doubt our fists are closed again. Our fists raised together, we chant, “We are the 99%,” “We are Troy Davis,” and, most recently, “We are Trayvon Martin.” The Internet Boycott effectively shelves dangerous legislation. We “Occupy” every major city in the nation. We are writing democracy across the world as the Arab Spring gives way to the Occupy Moment, the Internet Boycott , recurring challenges to persistent racism. More than 40 years later, the Closed Fist of the Silent Protest resonates as never before. It is time for CCCC to return to this iconic moment and take stock. .
Dr. John Carlos is a medaled USA Track and Field Hall of Fame athlete and Olympian. Competing in the 200 meters, Carlos earned the Gold in the 1967 Pan American Games, and the Bronze in the 1968 Olympics.
Dr. Carlos made world history during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico, when he took to the international stage during the medal ceremony and made a speechless statement, heard and seen worldwide. Winning the 200 meter, John Carlos accepted the Bronze medal at the Olympic podium wearing black socks and no shoes to represent impoverished people who had no shoes of their own, and raised a black-gloved fist crowning a bowed head to humbly reflect the strength of the human spirit.
Continuing his life-long mission to improve human rights conditions and to increase chances for the successes of our youth, Dr. Carlos is actively involved with global and community movements. In April of 2008, he once again took to the international stage and was a torch-bearer for the Human Rights Torch, which ran in parallel to the 2008 Summer Olympics torch relay, and focused attention on China’s human rights record. In July of the same year, Dr. Carlos accepted the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage for his salute at the 2008 Espy Awards.