Case 6

Jessie Owens

Great Track and Field Medalist -- American Hero at 1936 Berlin Olympics

James Owens (1913-1980)


Jesse Owens is one of the most famous track runners in history.  He was raised in Cleveland, Ohio and throughout his life, Owens attributed the success of his athletic career to the encouragement of Charles Riley, hisjunior high track coach at Fairmount Junior High School.  


At a Big Ten track meet in 1935 while attending Ohio State, Jesse set three world records and tying another one all under an hour. In 1936 he attended the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and came home with four gold medals. There was great controversy whether a black athlete should attend the games.  He argued that the Olympic ideal was supposed to be observed as a time-out from war and that it was above politics. Owens's success at the games represented an unpleasant consternation for Hitler, who was using the games to show the world a resurgent white Nazi supremacy.  


Racial discrimination plagued his athletic career even after returning home, and in 1937 his amateur status was taken away when he competed at a game in Sweden. This ended his career immediately and with no present day endorsements for a black man, Owens ran a dry cleaning business and worked as a gas station attendant to earn a living.


In 1976 Jesse Owens was awarded the highest civilian honor of Medal of Freedom by President Ford.  He died in 1980 from lung cancer.  There is an interesting movie calle RACE which delves into his beliefs and depicts his career and outstanding achievements.