US sprinter and activist, Lee Evans, who wore a black beret in a sign of protest at the 1968 Olympics, has died at the age of 74.
The San Jose Mercury News reported that Evans’ family had started a fundraiser in hopes of bringing him back to the US from Nigeria, where he coached track, to receive medical care after he suffered a stroke last week and was unconscious in a hospital.
The USA Track and Field confirmed Evans death on Wednesday, May, 19.
Evans was an assistant track coach at Odegbami’s International College and Sports Academy and had coached on and off in Africa since the 1970s.
Segun Odegbami, a former Nigerian soccer great also confirmed his death to San Jose Mercury News, saying:“Suddenly he’s not here. All those dreams are not fulfilled. It is so painful.” Odegbami said Evans lived with him in Nigeria as well.
He added, “He’s a restless spirit and finally found peace when he settled in Africa. It is where he wanted to live, to work and where he would have wanted to die.”
Evans became the first man to crack 44 seconds in the 400m, 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 to do anything similar, but 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 1968 games.
“His legacy of contributions to sports and the struggle for social justice is indelible and enduring,” tweeted Harry Edwards, the architect of the movement.
After running the 43.86, Evans anchored the US 4x400m team to a world record of 2 minutes, 56.16 seconds. The 400m record stood for almost 20 years. The relay record stood for 24.
Evans won five US titles at 400 meters and is a member of both the USATF and US Olympic halls of fame.
After he stopped running competitively, Evans spent time in Africa, working for the United Nations, and also coaching national teams in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.