Jesse Cleveland Owens

September 12, 1913 - March 31, 1980


Jesse, originally James, was born in Oakville Alabama. He was very sick as a child. At just seven years old he was picking up to one hundred pounds of cotton a day to help his family have food. When Jesse turned nine, him and his family moved to Cleveland Ohio. He moved from a one room school house to a much larger inner city school with more strict teachers. One of the instructors couldn't understand his thick accent. When he said his name was JC they thought he said "Jesse" which is how we got the nickname.

He attended East Technical High School where he set records in the 100m, 200m, and long jump. Afterward he attended Ohio State University. At the 1935 Big Ten Championship Jesse overcame a tailbone injury and tied the world record for the 100 meter dash. He also set a long jump record that would stand for 25 years and set new records in the 220 and 220 hurdles. Jesse was beginning to become nationally recognized for his talents.

1936 Berlin Olympics

The Berlin Olympics happened at a tricky time. There were major tensions happening in Europe and around the world. Hitler was beginning to rise and become a strong leader. He believed in the aryan race; blonde hair, blue eyes, white, and same beliefs as him. Hitler was hoping that through these games he would prove to the world how superior the aryans are.

Jesse Owens was obviously not one of "the aryan race", which caused some problems. He won four gold medals at those games. He dominated the 100 and 200 meter dashes. His 4by100m relay team also won gold. Jesse also competed in long jump. Him and a German, Aryan man by the name of Luz Long were battling for the gold medal. Despite differences in race, they became pals in the time they were at the games. This angered Hitler greatly, especially when Jesse won the gold medal. Hitler wouldn't even stay for the awards because he was so disgusted at the fact that a black man beat his so called "perfect race" in multiple events. Even when he won the 100 meter, reports say Hitler stormed out of the stadium.

During the 1936 Olympics Jesse managed to equal or break 9 world records, setting three of his own. The 4by100m team he competed on set a world record that stood for twenty years. The USA team had won eleven gold medals, six of which by black athletes. This was a step forward and away from racial discrimination.

The Homecoming

Things didn't go quiet as expected when jesse returned home , but he said he wasn't suprised by it. He didn't get any praise and the president, Frankling Roosevelt, didn't meet and congratulate him on his accomplishments. This was something that the presidents usually do for champions. But later on in 1976 Gerald Ford awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Afterward Jesse retired from being an amatuer athlete and began racing things such as cars and horses for money. Later on he started a business for himself and traveled a lot. Jesse died from lung cancer on March 31, 1980.

"When I came back to my native country, after all the stories about Hitler, I couldn't ride in the front of the bus, I had to go to the back door. I couldn't live where I wanted. I wasn't invited to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn't invited to the White House to shake hands with the president, either" -Jesse Owens