SJSU Honors Its History of Social Justice and Activism With Expanded, Campus-Wide “Legacy Month”

October’s celebratory, educational events build off Associated Students’ tradition.

October is always a busy month at San José State University with Homecoming activities, the start of midterms, and a variety of events and activities taking place around campus. One of the most significant recurring themes throughout October at SJSU is Legacy Month, which promises to have an even more prominent role than years’ past, especially as the university continues to repopulate and resume more in-person events.

Faculty, Associated Students and CCCAC plant the seeds

Legacy Month has traditionally centered on celebrated SJSU alumni and 1968 Olympic track-and-field medalists John Carlos and Tommie Smith, and the global impact they have had on social justice and human rights. A small group of faculty and students made sure years ago that the legacy of Carlos and Smith would never be forgotten.

Professor Scott Myers-Lipton of SJSU’s Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences conceived and led the years-long campaign to commemorate the Smith/Carlos legacy. On October 16, 2006 — the first anniversary of the unveiling of the statues — Myers-Lipton and several colleagues, including those from the African American Studies department and Ben Henderson from Associated Students, held a small event to commemorate the day Smith and Carlos raised their fists for justice in Mexico City.

SJSU’s Associated Students, along with key faculty members and staff, created Legacy Week (later, Legacy Month) as a way to honor and remember the social activism of Spartans from previous eras. Photo: Christina Olivas, San Jose State University

The following year, Professor Myers-Lipton asked the César Chávez Community Action Center (CCCAC) to become actively involved in the Smith/Carlos event, which they agreed to do. In the following years, the CCCAC took the lead in broadening the October 16 event to what came to be known as Legacy Week and, later, Legacy Month.

In recent years, Legacy Month events have placed raising awareness of Carlos and Smith’s historic stance atop the medal stand and their struggle for human rights to the forefront. CCCAC’s efforts are also designed to cultivate the next generation of social justice advocates at SJSU. Due to these efforts, the likeness of the two Spartan legends will forever be depicted and remembered by the iconic statue displayed on Tower Lawn.

“As an alumna of SJSU and part of the founding cohort of the CCCAC, I had the honor in 2008 to assist with the coordination of the inaugural Legacy Week at SJSU,” said Diana Victa, who now serves as department manager for the CCCAC.

“What started as a makeshift event in front of the statues now promises to not only deeply honor Smith and Carlos but also our rich history of student activism advocating for racial and social justice. I am proud and excited to see that the university has taken recognition of the power of Legacy Month by broadening it into something even greater for our community.”

Continuing, growing the tradition

Now, as campus efforts to address systemic racism have emerged as an ongoing priority, Legacy Month is growing in hopes of engaging even more members of the campus community. Jahmal Williams, Director of Advocacy for Racial Justice in the Office of the President’s Community & Government Relations group, said the month-long effort offers a variety of ways for students and others to gain an understanding of and an appreciation for the racial struggles that will always be a part of SJSU’s history.

(L-R) Tommie Smith, Dr. Harry Edwards and John Carlos pose for a photo on Oct. 17, 2018, in front of the statue on the SJSU campus that honors their iconic, black-gloved protest at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of that historic event. Photo: Josie Lepe/San Jose State University

“Fighting for racial and social justice is in the fabric of our campus,” said Williams. “Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Harry Edwards, the entire Olympic Project for Human Rights and so many others stand as icons in history. Their efforts should not only be studied, but celebrated and reflected upon by every student, faculty and staff member who grace our campus. We owe it to our pioneers for justice and to our community to embed this work into our university and the lives of those who will always be part of it.”

In addition to the events around October’s Legacy Month — which include a two-day conference spearheaded by SJSU’s Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change — a new symposium is planned for mid-November titled Transforming Communities: A Movement To Racial Justice. The event, which Williams hopes will become an annual tradition, is a joint effort between SJSU and local government, non-profits, organizations, schools and businesses with an end goal of creating a racially just and equitable city, county and region. An array of presentations, lectures, workshops and keynote speakers are expected.

Here are some of the ways San José State will celebrate Legacy Month this October and honor those Spartan alumni who have paved the way for future generations with their activism and commitment to human rights:

Legacy Month Kickoff

Monday, October 4  |  Noon
7th Street Plaza

Honor the rich history of student activism of SJSU. Stop by the CCCAC table to receive a free t-shirt.


Legacy Month Speaker: Leah Thomas

Wednesday, October 6  |  7 – 8:30 p.m.
Zoom Registration – Leah Thomas

Leah Thomas is an environmentalist, passionate about advocating for and exploring the relationship between social justice and environmentalism. She is the founder of eco-lifestyle blog @greengirlleah, @thegreensgirlco and The Intersectional Environmentalist Platform.


Press Conference: Racial & Social Justice at SJSU

Tuesday, October 19  |  11 a.m.
Smith and Carlos Statues

Hear the announcement of the release of the booklet “Racial and Social Justice at SJSU,” which documents 10 actions taken by SJSU students, including the actions by Tommie and John, to build Dr. King’s Beloved Community.


Continuing the Legacy of Tommie Smith and John Carlos

Tuesday, October 19  |  Noon – 1:30 p.m.
Smith and Carlos Statues

Join the SJSU campus community to reflect on the significance of Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s historic action 53 years ago in Mexico City, and its relevance to today’s struggle for racial and social justice.


Ableism in Social Justice Spaces

Spartan Legacy Training Academy

Tuesday, October 19  |  1 – 2 p.m.
Zoom RSVP – Ableism

As activists and advocates, we are often so busy organizing we forget to take the time to look at what our spaces look like and who we design them for. Learn more about what we can do in our own spaces to combat ableism.


Smith/Carlos “Teach-In”

Tuesday, October 19
Wednesday, October 20

SJSU faculty are encouraged to register and select from a variety of related topics to engage students on the university’s legacy of activism or to choose their own! These informal discussions or lectures on issues related to SJSU’s legacy of social justice and activism are designed to inspire and engage.


Legacy Month Movie Night: With Drawn Arms

Wednesday, October 20  |  6:30 p.m.
Tower Lawn

Enjoy a night on the lawn as you learn the story of the ’68 Olympic Games protest firsthand. Tommie Smith takes you through a journey of his experience that helped define a movement and changed the course of his life forever. Bring your friends and your favorite blankets.


It is Time: Voice of Athlete Activism

Thursday – Friday, October 21 – 22  |  9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
More information and RSVP – It is Time

Join the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change for a two-day virtual conference to learn about the history and legacy of athlete activism at SJSU and beyond, including keynote panels, change agent organizations and educational teachings with ISSSSC’s Words to Action workshops.


SJSU Legacy Run – A Celebration of our Community

Also part of Hispanic Heritage Month

Saturday, October 30  |  9 – 11 a.m.

Starting and ending at the Smith/Carlos statues on Tower Lawn, this new fun run will circle the perimeter of the university, highlighting SJSU’s roots and heritage in activism. A number of running groups from San José and the Bay Area will join SJSU’s Track and Field and Cross Country teams, and students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the community are all invited to register and participate.