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Legendary sprinter, activist Lee Evans dies at 74

"Lee Evans was one of the greatest athletes and social justice advocates in an era that produced a generation of such courageous, committed and contributing athlete-activists," activist Harry Edwards said

Black History

FILE - United States runners Larry James, left, Lee Evans, center, and Ron Freeman are shown after receiving their medals for the 400-meter race at the Mexico City Games in Mexico City, in this Oct. 18, 1968, file photo. Evans won gold, James took silver and Freeman got the bronze medal. Lee Evans, the record-setting sprinter who wore a black beret in a sign of protest at the 1968 Olympics, died Wednesday, May 19, 2021. He was 74. USA Track and Field confirmed Evans' death. The San Jose Mercury News reported that Evans' family had started a fundraiser with hopes of bringing him back to the U.S. from Nigeria, where he coached track, to receive medical care after he suffered a stroke last week.(AP Photo/File)
By: Alyssa Wilson

Lee Evans, the iconic sprinter who wore a black beret at the 1968 Olympics, died Wednesday at the age of 74. According to the Associated Press, he suffered from a stroke one week ago and his family was trying to relocate him to the United States from Nigeria, where he was coaching track.  

Evans was the first man to run 44 seconds in the 400-meter race, winning the gold medal at the Mexico City Games. His victory came after teammates Tommie Smith and John Carlos were sent back to the United States for raising their fists on the medal stand as an act of protest.  

RELATED: Dr. John Carlos, who raised a fist during 1968 Olympics, reacts to Olympic ban on protests 

In interviews, Evans said he was warned not to do anything similar, so he took a different approach by wearing a black beret to show support for the Black Panther Party and civil rights organizations.  

Evans won five U.S. titles at 400 meters, and is a member of the USATF and U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. He coached at numerous colleges and was the Director of Athletics for the Special Olympics. He also coached national teams in Qatar, Cameroon and Nigeria.  

In addition to his teaching work, he was a humanitarian. While coaching in Nigeria, he was awarded the 1919 Nelson Mandela Award for being a person who “stood for the values of equality and friendship and respect of human rights against apartheid and any form of racism.” Evans also worked on the Madagascar Project that helped provide fresh water and self-sustaining farming techniques to the country.