With the 2012 Olympic games underway in London, we thought it fitting to use “Olympic Games,” by Jacob Lawrence, for our cover this month. It recently sold, along with two other prints, for $300 at Swann Auction Galleries’ Discovery Sale on June 28 in New York. Lawrence was one of the foremost African American artists of the 20th century and was known for his depiction of the history and struggles of the African American people. His most famous works were his narrative series, which focused on individual figures important to black history, such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.
The Olympics, despite its format pitting countries against one another in competition, has a rich history as a platform for the success of marginalized peoples. Indeed, Lawrence’s poster for the ‘72 games calls to mind such notable moments as Jesse Owens winning the gold as Hitler looked on in Berlin in 1936 and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ black-gloved salute on the medal podium in 1968.
It’s some sort of twisted irony then that the ’72 games in Munich would become notable as the site of one of the worst cases of racially motivated violence in sports history, as the Palestinian terrorist group, Black September, took members of the Israeli team hostage, eventually resulting in the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches, five of the terrorists and one West German police officer.