"We had to sacrifice to prove a point and we were vilified because we had to do this," said Smith, whose courageous stand alongside Carlos during the 1968 Olympics sent a powerful message about the role athletes can play in creating change.
The two were joined by fellow Olympians, Hall of Famers, journalists, and scholars to commemorate fifty years of athlete activism during a historic town hall on campus.
"Whether it's color or the clothes you where, or (the) gender you are, or whatever, there's always going to be people there, so we always have to be strong in our convictions when it comes to human rights," said Wyomia Tyus, a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist who was at the 1964 and 1968 Olympics, and was also part of the Olympic Project for Human Rights.
Colin Kaepernick tweeted his support for Smith and Carlos this week recognizing them for their sacrifice. In 2016, the former 49ers quarterback began kneeling during the national anthem at the start of each game to protest police brutality. It was a topic of discussion during today's gathering.
Thank you Tommie Smith&John Carlos 4 the sacrifices you made on this day 50 yrs ago.They have laid the foundation 4 the advancement of many others at their own personal expense,& have done it gracefully&unapologetically!We will never be able 2 repay you 4 what you have done 4 us! pic.twitter.com/2V4gEKV26o— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) October 17, 2018
"The necessity of his sacrifice is prevailing," said Smith. "He must continue because he's already set a platform for himself to help others."
Students were inspired to hear about the wave of activism that came before them.
"Hearing about how fearless they were, and how they knew they were doing the right thing, and had the confidence... and they knew the consequences that were going to come along with it," said SJSU student athlete Huruy Zeratsion.
SJSU student athlete Charlie Pope said, "It sets the standard. It lays the foundation for all of the other social protests that happened, and as those protests happen, people become more informed. When they become more informed, there's less and less social injustice because people start to understand what is exactly going on in our society."
On Thursday, Smith and Carlos will each receive the university's highest honor, the Tower Award, at the annual SJSU Inspiration to Innovation Gala.