Black History Month Spotlight: Jesse Owens
Jesse Owens, born James Cleveland Owens, was an American track and field athlete who specialized in the sprint and long jump. In honor of Black History Month the SLA Pioneer decided take a quick look at his life and accomplishments.
Owens was born in Oakville, Alabama on September 12, 1913. Even at an elementary age Owens was noted for his running ability. After setting track records in middle school and high school Owens was accepted to Ohio State University. Unfortunately Owens’ athletic prowess didn’t nullify all prejudiced treatment, being forced to live off campus away from his white teammates and work multiple jobs do to being denied a scholarship.
While competing for the Ohio State Buckeyes, Owens won eight individual NCAA championships. In one famous Big Ten championship the “Buckeye Bullet” as he was called broke three world records and tied another in approximately a 45 minute span.
Perhaps his most famous performance was during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Owens won four gold medals in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, proving their beliefs of a “superior race” wrong.
Owens returned to America as a hero. Owens attempted to use his Olympic success to start a career in the media, thus ending his racing career. Unlike the white Olympic stars Owens struggled to find film roles and, unfortunately, struggled financially and eventually had to file for bankruptcy.
Later in his life Owens found some success as a consultant and motivational speaker. In 1976 Owens was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Owens died on March 31, 1980, at the age of 66 due to lung cancer likely caused by his pack-a-day smoking habits. In honor of his contributions the Jesse Owens award, the highest accolade for the years best track and field athlete, was named after him.
Jesse Owens inspired and paved the way for countless black athletes and ranks as one of America’s all time Olympic athletes. As I wrote this article I was humbled and amazed that one man could make such big statements about himself and his race with his athletic performances. Hopefully we can all learn something about hard work and perseverance from Jessie Owens.