International Olympic Committee Invitation

The international antiapartheid movement also provided another significant endorsement to the OPHR. On February 15, 1968, the International Olympic Committee extended an invitation to South Africa to participate in the games. The governing Afrikaner Nationalist Party enforced a rigid system of racial apartheid in South Africa that denied citizenship and human rights to the nation’s majority African population. Within days, all thirty-six in de pendent nations of black Africa pledged to boycott the games if South Africa participated. The Soviet Union also intimated withdrawal. The African bloc and leading antiapartheid advocates in the United States endorsed the OPHR as part of the campaign to bar South Africa from the Olympics. The assassination of King on April 4, 1968, also radicalized a number of blacks into supporting the OPHR. The threat of a combined Third World and black boycott or protests disrupting the games forced the IOC to issue a decision in late April to bar South Africa from the upcoming Olympics.

The expulsion tempered support for the OPHR in several quarters, but Edwards, the chief strategist of the OPHR, managed to keep the campaign newsworthy by capitalizing on the media’s fascination with black militants and speaking on college campuses across the country. On the advice of mentor and television reporter Louis Lomax, Edwards transformed himself into a stereo typical militant. He adopted the Black Panther Party’s black leather jacket and beret, publicly associated with other black militants, and made outrageous statements that drew the attention of the press. For example, in February 1968, he held a press conference with H. Rap Brown, who suggested that the alternative to protesting a track meet sponsored by an athletic club that did not permit membership to blacks would be to blow up the meet’s venue. In April 1968, following the assassination of King, Edwards stated that as a show of good faith to blacks, the federal government needed to kill all white supremacists with a dull ax. He also attacked several of his black critics, including former Olympian and anti-Nazi symbol of the 1936 Berlin Games Jesse Owens and baseball stalwart Willie Mays, as Uncle Toms and establishment Negroes, although their criticism of the boycott had a greater effect than many promoting the boycott imagined at the time.

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