Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice

Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice
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Release Date
September 27, 2022
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A groundbreaking and timely graphic memoir from one of the most iconic figures in American sports―and a tribute to his fight for civil rights.
On October 16, 1968, during the medal ceremony at the Mexico City Olympics, Tommie Smith, the gold medal winner in the 200-meter sprint, and John Carlos, the bronze medal winner, stood on the podium in black socks and raised their black-gloved fists to protest racial injustice inflicted upon African Americans. Both men were forced to leave the Olympics, received death threats, and faced ostracism and continuing economic hardships.

In his first-ever memoir for young readers, Tommie Smith looks back on his childhood growing up in rural Texas through to his stellar athletic career, culminating in his historic victory and Olympic podium protest. Cowritten with Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Author Honor recipient Derrick Barnes and illustrated with bold and muscular artwork from Emmy Award–winning illustrator Dawud Anyabwile, Victory. Stand! paints a stirring portrait of an iconic moment in Olympic history that still resonates today.

Black-and-white illustrations throughout

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THe Story Behind the Iconic Photo
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Learning Value

If you've read John Lewis' March trilogy, you know that graphic novels can be a great way to introduce tough historical events to young readers. The visuals are especially striking when showing conditions that young readers have never seen; the dirt floors of the Smith's house, the fields in which they worked, and the clothes that they wore are all easily understandable when seen in pictures. This seems like a small thing, but my students have trouble understanding that the world wasn't always the way it is right now. Since the resurgence of Civil Rights issues we've seen in the last few years, it's important for young readers to really understand how severe the mistreatment of Blacks was in the 1960s so that they can see there has been some progress made. Otherwise, it's all too easy to give up hope.

Smith's story is ordinary and remarkable at the same time. Born in 1944, he came from a large family who sharecropped, which meant that even at a young age, he was expected to be in the fields working, and may only have gone to school a few months out of the year. When he was still fairly young, his parents decided to move from Texas to California in hopes of bettering their lives. A truant officers told his parents that the law in California required children to go to school, so Smith was able to hvae this advantage. There was constant, casual racism, and not as many Black students at the schools, but he was still able to not only get an education but to get involved in the sports program. Because he had forward thinking, understanding coaches, he was able to develop into an outstanding all around athlete.

When he went to college, it was a culture shock. The illustration of his wearing overalls to San Jose University might seem laughable to today's readers, but the difference between city life and country life, even forty years ago, was quite striking. Smith knew that the way he was treated when his family was working on farms wasn't right, but when he got to college, he met other Black people who helped him understand this treatment and develop ways to work against it, which lead to his eventual heroic gesture at the 1968 Olympics.

This was a whole generation after Jackie Robinson's entry into sports in the 1940s, but things had not changed much. Black athletes still had to deal with discrimination, but things were changing. The "Freedom Summer" of 1964 changed the attitude of many, and Dr. Martin Luther King's marches showed the world that treatment of Black people needed to change. Smith was aware of all of these events, and worked as hard on his schoolwork as he did on his athletics so that he would have the tools he needed to get ahead in a world determined to hold him back.
Good Points
Readers may be familiar with the iconic picture of Smith and John Carlos on the winners' stand in 1968, but will be riveted by the story of what lead the men to mount their protest in the way that they did, and also by the ramifications of their actions, and how those affected their lives. I hadn't known that Smith had to deal with death threats, or that he taught at Oberlin College, so there was a lot that I learned from this book.

Barnes' illustrations are perfect for the era; they have a feel of Stan Lee's work, which always stood for equality, and a little bit of a Mad Magazine vibe, which was always on the cutting edge of social commentary in this era. The ARC is in black and white, white seems to fit thematically with the content. The words aren't crowded on the page, as is the case in some graphic nonfiction titles, and Barnes does a great job showing the motion of athletics on the page.

Readers who loved the graphic novel version of Kwame Alexander's The Crossover and Booked will be enticed to pick this book up, and those interested in Black history will be enthralled. Victory. Stand! is a great book to use to introduce history to reluctant readers, who will no doubt find themselves going down quite a rabbit hole to research the characters and events that they find as they read about Smith's life.
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