SJ to vote on former Olympian's home

May 19, 2009 1:17:59 PM PDT
The San Jose City Council Tuesday is expected to confer historic landmark status on a house once occupied by Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith, known for giving a "black power" salute along with teammate John Carlos while receiving their track-and-field medals in Mexico City in 1968.

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San Jose's Historic Landmarks Commission held a public hearing and put forth a recommendation to give landmark status to the house, located at 55 N. 11th St. If the home does become city landmark No. 181, a special permit would be required to make any exterior changes to the structure.

City Council members will vote on the landmark status at this afternoon's meeting.

Smith lived in the home while attending San Jose State University, where he was a member of several world record relay teams, according to his personal Web site. He also set seven individual world records during his career.

In his report recommending the landmark designation, landmarks commission secretary Joseph Horwedel said Smith and teammate Carlos' single-fisted salute "created an iconic image associated with the black power and human rights movement."

A statue recreating the moment stands on the San Jose State University campus.

The landmark would be the first in the city to celebrate a black resident, according to a letter submitted in support of the landmark status by Oscar Battle, Jr., emeritus president of the African American Faculty & Staff Association at SJSU.

In the letter, Battle said the house would serve as "a historical landmark for civil rights, student protests, student involvement and freedom of speech."

In his autobiography, Smith recalls renting the house on 11th Street for $150 a month, then purchasing it for $35,000 shortly before competing in the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico City.

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