Record-setting sprinter, 1968 Olympic activist Lee Evans dies at 74 in Lagos,
Nigeria, Lee Evans, the record-setting sprinter who wore a black beret in a sign
of protest at the 1968 Olympics, died Wednesday. He was 74. USA Track and Field
confirmed Evans’ death.
The San Jose Mercury News reported Sunday that Evans’ family had started a fundraiser
with hopes of bringing him back to the United States from Nigeria, where he coached
track, to receive medical care after he suffered a stroke last week.
Evans became the first man to crack 44 seconds in the 400 meters, winning the gold
medal at the Mexico City Games in 43.86. His victory came shortly after his teammates,
Tommie Smith and John Carlos, were sent home from the Olympics for raising their fists
on the medals stand.
In later interviews, Evans said an official warned him not do anything similar. He took a
different approach, wearing a black beret to show support for the Black Panther Party
and other civil rights organizations.
Like Smith and Carlos, Evans was a college star on the San Jose State ‘Speed City’ teams.
He was also a high-profile member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which
called attention to racial inequality and oppression and spearheaded the protests at the
“His legacy of contributions to sports and the struggle for social justice is indelible and
enduring,” tweeted Harry Edwards, the architect of the movement.