Owens, Jesse (1913–1980)

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Jesse Owens (1913–1980)

More than any other athlete, track-and-field star Jesse Owens is most closely associated with the 1936 Olympics (see entry under 1900s—Sports and Games in volume 1), held in Berlin, Germany. Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), who had become dictator of Germany in 1933, wanted these Olympic games to be a showcase for Aryan supremacy (Hitler's belief that the white race was superior to all other peoples and races). Owens, not only an American but an African American, won four Gold Medals—for the 100- and 200-meter dashes, the 400-meter relay, and the broad jump—causing Hitler great embarrassment. In an ungentlemanly act, Hitler refused to congratulate Owens, leaving the stadium before the athlete was presented with his medals.

Born to Alabama sharecroppers, Owens had already won international acclaim in 1935 when he set world records in six events as a member of the Ohio State University track team. Upon his return from the 1936 Olympics, he was honored with a ticker tape parade in New York. From then on, Owens was celebrated as a symbol of democracy and freedom. He served in various capacities as a goodwill ambassador and sports administrator—quite an accomplishment for an African American before the civil rights movement (see entry under 1960s—The Way We Lived in volume 4).

—Rob Edelman

For More Information

Gentry, Tony. Jesse Owens. New York: Chelsea House, 1990.

Jesse Owens: The Offical Web Site.http://www.jesseowens.com (accessed February 13, 2002).

Owens, Jesse, and Paul Neimark. Jesse: A Spiritual Autobiography. Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1978.

Rennert, Rick. Jesse Owens. New York: Chelsea Juniors, 1992.

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Owens, Jesse (1913–1980)

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