Jesse Owens: An American Hero
January 31, 2012
February is Black History Month. As I was musing on the subject over the weekend, I was reminded of a report I wrote and read aloud to my class in 6th grade. The assignment was straightforward; we all had to choose a historically important African-American, do a bit of research in the library, and tell the class a bit about his or her life and accomplishments. Most of my classmates chose Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or George Washington Carver, all of whom did great things, I might add. Their names are well-known though, and their major accomplishments are already familiar. They're the figures you choose to research if you don't want to let a school project cut into your personal time too awfully much. That being said, I went a different route. Inspired by my love of running, I did my report on Jesse Owens.
Jesse Owens was born in 1913 to Henry and Emma Alexander Owens. He was given the name "James Cleveland," but went by "JC." When his schoolteacher asked for his name, she misheard the initials as "Jesse" and the name stuck. By the age of 15, Jesse was breaking junior and high school records for the high jump and the 220 yard dash. He won Ohio's track and field state championship 3 years in a row and was hotly pursued by colleges throughout the country.
In 1936, Owens found himself competing in the summer Olympics in Berlin at the height of Adolf Hitler's power, where he managed to bring home 4 gold medals. Returning home to his young family proved difficult for Jesse though. Olympic athletes weren't backed by sponsorships back then. Jesse did as he had always done-he held down a number of jobs to provide for his family. A position as playground director in Cleveland fed Owens' dream to work with underprivileged youth, a dream he pursued when he moved to Chicago, where he became director and then board member for the Chicago Boys' Club.
In 1955, Jesse was named as "America's Ambassador of Sports" and spent two months touring parts of Asia, where he met with government officials and spoke with disadvantaged children whenever he could. Additionally, President Eisenhower named Owens as his personal representative to the Olympic Games in Australia in 1956.
While Jesse Owens' records have been broken, his accomplishments are not dulled by the passage of time. He accomplished what no one else had. He showed the world that strength, resolve, and character, rather than race, determine success. He undermined Hitler's Aryan supremacy argument with each of the 4 gold medals he obtained. The son of a sharecropped and grandson of a slave, Jesse was determined to build a better life for himself and for future generations.
North Independence Branch