Jesse Owens: The Olympian Who Accidentally Stood Up To Hitler
Jesse Owens May Not Have Snubbed Hitler As Such
Jesse Owens Accidentally Stood Up To Hitler, But Purposefully Stood Up To Poverty
There is a sort of myth that has gathered a lot of moss over the years about Jesse (J.C) Owens and how his four, count em', four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany showed-up Adolph Hitler and his perfect Aryan athletes. For those who don't know, Adolph Hitler believed that blond haired blue eyed humans were the superior form in body and mind. At the 1936 Olympics Hitler congratulated German and Finnish athletes, but when it came time to shake hands with the dark skinned American, he decided not to shake hands with any more athletes at all. Of course, on the surface Jesse's victory looks like a great big "up yours" to the Fuhrer by America and more specifically by Owens. But if you do a bit of research, you will be surprised to find that Owens didn't necessarily see it that way, especially at that moment.
Jesse Owens did go on over the years to reveal that he felt most people (though not necessarily all) could overcome the adversity in their lives and succeed. He believed that individual achievement trumped pedigree or race. But at the time of the 1936 Olympics, J.C. just wanted to win his events, he didn't care much about the political background.
The son of an Alabama sharecropper and the grandson of a slave, James Cleveland Owens' running career began in 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio. He quickly made a name for himself in his younger years gaining a new Junior High School record in the broad jump reaching 22 feet 11 and 3/4 inches! He won all his high school track events and won the Ohio state track meets three years in a row. During his senior year at the Interscholastic Track Meet in Chicago Owens tied the world high school record for the 100 yard dash at 9.4 seconds and created a new world high school record for the 220 yard dash in 20.7 seconds. He later went on to Ohio State University without a scholarship, working several jobs at once to support his wife and pay for school. All the while, breaking even more collegiate track records. At the Big Ten Championships in 1935 Owens broke three world records and tied another, this was a prelude of what was to come.
Again it was at the 1936 Olympics where Jesse won four gold medals. When reporters asked Jesse if he was upset that Adolf Hitler refused to shake his hand, he purportedly claimed that the media had blown it out of proportion. It's important not to judge Owens in the hindsight of history. At the time, Hitler was known more as "the man of the hour" in world politics for bringing Germany out of it's economical depression. Few people had heard of Dachau or believed or knew about the "work will set you free" camps. The American media was still touting George Washington's avoid all foreign entanglements mantra. Though undoubtedly by 1936 Hitlers abuse of Jews, Gypsies and anyone he deemed inferior was made public in some manner. When asked about Hitler's snub years later Jesse said that supposedly Adolf Hitler had even waved to him at the event, if not coming down from the stands and shaking hands. Whereas sitting American President at the time, Franklin D. Roosevelt didn't bother to send a telegram of congratulations to the first American to win four gold medals, nor was he invited to the White House or ever publicly recognized in any way by FDR. In one of the most pathetic moments in the history of the United States, Owens was relegated to using the freight elevator at his own recognition dinner after his own ticker tape parade, since the regular elevator was whites only. It wasn't until many years later in the 1970s that Presidents' Ford and Carter recognized this great American athlete by giving him the Medal Of Freedom and Living Legend Award respectively.
Jesse Owens receiving 1936 gold medal in Berlin
Read more about this great Olympian here:
JesseOwens.com is the official website of Jesse Owens.
Jesse Owens wished to be remembered as someone who helped and inspired those in need
Jesse Owens had become quite a star in the eyes of regular Germans. He even befriended another German athlete Lutz Long, who ironically enough aided Owens in winning one of his medals, but was later killed in World War II. Another little known fact is that Jesse Owens wore a pair of German made shoes when he won his golds at the Berlin Olympics. Also, a secondary school in Berlin was later named in his honor.
Jesse Owens spent the remainder of his life traveling around the country, mainly public speaking and helping out with various impoverished youth programs. At that time, mainly because of the barriers of racial prejudice still at work, Jesse Owens did not receive any of the lucrative commercial deals that so many athletes receive today. Jesse Owens still had a difficult time making a living once returning to his own country. Despite all this adversity, Owens maintained that he was a lucky man, to have been given a great opportunity in life. Despite the political protests over the years, he believed that the Olympics should always be a "time out" from politics, a time when the world should examine the excellence of it's individual members. Later on in life, Jesse said he believed everyone needed to deal with their own "Hitler's" in their own way. He believed that you can achieve what you want from life if you work hard enough and believe in yourself. He also relented that not all people have the same "head start" as others, and that for certain impoverished or prejudiced peoples, their struggle was even more difficult.
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