Victory, Stand! by Tommie Smith and Derrick Barnes

Victory, Stand!, this year’s ALA YA nonfiction award winner, tells the story of the notorious “Olympic fist” from a point of view that makes it understandable.

Victory, Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith and Derrick Barnes, artwork by Dawud Anyabwile. Norton, 2022, 202 pages.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 10-15

Raising a Champion

When the national anthem played, they bowed their heads and raised their fists, sheathed in black leather gloves. Tommie Smith had just won an Olympic gold medal for breaking a record in the 200 meter; his friend and teammate had won bronze. They hadn’t planned what they were going to do, but as members of the newly minted Olympic Project for Human Rights it had to be something, and so it was: the fist seen around the world.

It was a long road to get there. Born somewhere in the middle of twelve children to a sharecropper family in Texas, Tommie would walk three miles to school when he wasn’t working in the fields or helping his mother. But when he was 7, his father packed the family on a bus with other sharecroppers headed to California. After two years working off his transport debt at a labor camp, Mr. Smith was able to earn his own money and move the family to better and better housing. But that wasn’t the only benefit California offered.

School was a requirement, not on off-season luxury, and it was in those integrated schools that Tommie discovered his athletic gifts. Two sympathetic white coaches helped him reach his potential and win an athletic scholarship to San Jose State, where he was seen as Olympic potential. But was he seen as a human being, especially when he wasn’t even allowed to rent an apartment in San Jose?

Defiance, or Demand for Justice?

Raising his fist at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics was controversial, to say the least. Besides immediate forfeiture of his medal and exile from the games, he lost job opportunities and future athletic competitions. Still–“I would do it again.” He gives full credit to faith in God, inherited from his devout parents, for the courage to take that stand. Like many Americans at the time, I judged him for that act of defiance, but this graphic memoir illuminates his motivation and should lead to more understanding.

NOTE: Besides the ALA YALSA award for Excellence in YA nonfiction, Victory, Stand! is a Coretta Scott King illustrator honor book, and a CSK author honor book.

Overall Rating: 4.25

Worldview/moral value: 4

Artistic/literary value: 4.5

Read more about our ratings here.                 

Also at Redeemed Reader:

Reviews: We highly recommend Jason Reynolds’ Track Series.

Review: For Christian teens, Benjamin Watson’s Under Our Skin is a must-read.

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