Robert Clark, 95; Academic Backed Olympians' Protest
From Associated Press
Robert Clark, who as president of San Jose State College supported sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos after their protest on the medal podium at the 1968 Olympics, died Tuesday at a Eugene, Ore., hospice. He was 95.
Clark died from age-related causes, the University of Oregon said in a statement released Wednesday. Clark was the Oregon school's president from 1969 to 1975.
"His steady and thoughtful leadership during some of the most difficult years in American higher education helped set the stage for this university's current excellence," university President Dave Frohnmayer said.
"During his presidency, he understood that he had the responsibility to make the hard decisions and he understood the absolute necessity of freedom and neutrality."
From 1964 to 1969, Clark was president of San Jose State, where he was known for his support of the civil rights struggles of black athletes.
Two San Jose State sprinters, gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos, raised their gloved fists and bowed their heads in protest during the playing of the national anthem at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
The statement on black pride got Smith and Carlos kicked out of the Olympic village and made them a target of hatred. But they found support back at San Jose State, with Clark calling them "honorable young men."
"My father was always opening his door to the angry and saying 'You may be right,' " his daughter, Suzanne Clark, said in a statement. "This was true whether the rebellious one was an 8-year-old or Vietnam protesters carrying torches."
She said Smith recently sent her father a picture and a message about the support Clark had given Smith and Carlos while president of San Jose State. According to Suzanne Clark, the message said, "You are my hero."
A Nebraska native, Clark received a bachelor's degree from Pasadena College in 1931, a master's degree in speech from USC in 1935 and a doctorate in speech from USC in 1943.
He went to the University of Oregon as an assistant professor of speech and became chairman of the department in 1954. There he founded the country's first honors college in 1959, and it was named for him when he retired in 1975.
In addition to Suzanne, Clark is survived by another daughter, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.