JAMES CLEVELAND “JESSE” OWENS “BUCKEYE BULLET,”
(September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980)
American track and field athlete and four-time Olympic gold medalist.
Jessie Owens was born to Henry Cleveland Owens and Mary Emma Fitzgerald in Oakville, Alabama on September 12, 1913. His parents had ten children he was the youngest.
“I let my feet spend as little time on the ground as possible. From the air, fast down, and from the ground, fast up.”
He had a passion and drive for the sport of track. During his Junior High Scholl days at Fairmount he was given the encouragement and coaching by Charles Riley. He graduated and entered into East Technical High School in Cleveland and that is when his fame began from an early age. He honed on his craft and in the year of 1933 at the National High School Championship in Chicago he equalled the world record of 9.4 seconds in the 100-yard (91 m) dash and long-jumped 24 feet 9 1⁄2 inches (7.56 metres) .
Jessie became an accomplished sprinter and also in the long jump. He was recognized in his lifetime as the best in the field of track in world history. His unmatched achievement of setting three world records and tying another in less than an hour at the 1935 Big Ten track meet has been called “the greatest 45 minutes ever in sport” . During the rule of Hitler the Neo Nazi Era who was an extreme racist in Germany Jessie attended the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Again defeating the odds and setting world records he won international fame with four gold medals: 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump, and 4×100 meter relay. He was the most successful athlete at the games and as such has been credited with “single-handedly difusing Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy.”
But during that world history life changing event for everyone something miraculous took place as in the following statements:
Siefried Mischner a German journalist stated in a 2009 interview that Jessie carried around a photograph in his wallet of the Führer shaking his hand before the latter left the stadium. He who felt the newspapers of the day reported ‘unfairly’ on Hitler’s attitude towards him, tried to get Mischner and his journalist colleagues to change the accepted version of history in the 1960s. Mischner claimed tha Jessie Owens showed him the photograph and told him: “That was one of my most beautiful moments.” Mischner added “(the picture) was taken behind the honour stand and so not captured by the world’s press. But I saw it, I saw him shaking Hitler’s hand!” According to Mischner, “the predominating opinion in post-war Germany was that Hitler had ignored Owens, so we therefore decided not to report on the photo. The consensus was that Hitler had to continue to be painted in a bad light in relation to Jessie.” For some time, Mischner’s assertion was not confirmed independently of his own account, and Mischner himself admitted in Mail Online that “All my colleagues are dead, Owens is dead. I thought this was the last chance to set the record straight. I have no idea where the photo is or even if it exists still.”
However, in 2014, Eric Brown, British fighter pilot and test pilot, the Fleet Air Arm’s most decorated living pilot, independently stated in a BBC documentary “I actually witnessed Hitler shaking hands with Jesse Owens and congratulating him on what he had achieved.” Additionally, an article in The Baltimore Sun in August 1936 reported that Hitler sent Owens a commemorative inscribed cabinet photograph of himself.
Jessie was allowed to travel with and stay in the same hotels in Germany as whites, while at the time African Americans in many parts of the United States had to stay in segregated hotels while traveling. During a New York City ticker-tape parade on Fifth Avenue in his honor, someone handed him a paper bag. He paid the gift little attention until the end of the parade. When he decided to open the bag in it was $10,000 in cash. Jessie’s wife Ruth later said, “And he didn’t know who was good enough to do a thing like that. And with all the excitement around, he didn’t pick it up right away. He didn’t pick it up until he got ready to get out of the car.”After the parade, he had to ride the freight elevator at the Waldorf-Astoria to reach the reception honoring him. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) never invited Jesse Owens to the White House following his triumphs at the Olympics games.
Jessie joined the Republican Party after returning from Europe, was paid to campaign for African American votes for the Republican presidential nominee Alf Landon in the 1936 presidential election. Later on he remarked while on the stump for Landon, that “Hitler didn’t snub me – it was our president who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.
Jessie Owens and Minnie Ruth Solomon met at Fairmount Junior High School in Cleveland when he was 15 years old and she was 13 years old. They dated steadily through high school. They married and Ruth gave birth to their first daughter, Gloria, in 1932. They married in 1935 and had two more daughters together: Marlene, born in 1939, and Beverly, born in 1940. Prior to his he tried unsuccessfully to convince then President Jimmy Carter not to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics. He argued that the Olympic ideal was to be a time-out from war and above politics.
On March 31, 1980 Jessie Owens passed away at the age of 66 with his wife ruth and other family members at his bedside in Tucson, Arizona. His place of burial is Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.
The Jesse Owens Award, USA Track and Field’s highest accolade for the year’s best track and field athlete, is named after him, and he was ranked by ESPN as the sixth greatest North American athlete of the twentieth century and the highest-ranked in his sport.
In 1936, four English Oak saplings, one for each Olympic gold medal, from the German Olympic Committee, were planted.
In 1970, Owens was inducted to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1976 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford.
In 1976, he was made part of the Olympic Order for his fight against racism in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
In 1980, a new asteroid was discovered by Antonín Mrkos at Kleť Observatory which was named as 6758 Jesseowens in honor of Jesse Owens.
USA Track and Field created the Jesse Owens Award in 1981, which is given annually to the country’s top track and field athlete.
In 1984, an Emmy Award-winning biographical television film of his life, The Jesse Owens Story
In 1984 a street near the Olympic Stadium in Berlin was renamed Jesse-Owens-Allee, and the Jesse Owens Realschule/Oberschule (a secondary school) in Berlin-Lichtenberg, was named for him.
On March 28, 1990, Owens was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George H. W. Bush.
Two U.S. postage stamps have been issued to honor Owens, one in 1990 and another in 1998.
In 1996, Owens’s hometown of Oakville, Alabama, dedicated Jesse Owens Memorial Park in his honor.
In 2001, The Ohio State University dedicated Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium for track and field events.
In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Jesse Owens on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
In Cleveland, Ohio, a statue of Owens in his Ohio State track suit was installed at Fort Huntington Park.
Phoenix, Arizona named the Jesse Owens Medical Plaza in his honor, as well as Jesse Owens Parkway.
Jesse Owens Park, located in Tucson, Arizona.
At the 2009 World Athletic Championships in Berlin, all members of the United States Track & Field team wore badges with “JO” to commemorate Owens’s victories in the same stadium 73 years before.
On November 15, 2010, the city of Cleveland renamed East Roadway, between Rockwell and Superior avenues in Public Square, Jesse Owens Way.