Biography of Jesse Owens

Born in rural Oakville, Alabama, a track star that changed the way people in this world think was born. In this quote, Jesse Owens stated: “To me, we must learn to spell the word RESPECT. We must respect the rights and properties of our fellowman. And then learn to play the game of life, as well as the game

of athletics, according to the rules of society. If you can take that and put it into practice in the community in which you live, then, to me you have won the greatest championship.” In that quote, Owens meant that if you can respect others, learn to be fair, accept the challenges in life as well as athletics, and put it in your life somehow, you can achieve your dream. Jesse Owens achieved the impossible. From the struggle of Segregation, with the lack of money, and the brutality of others, Owens accomplished something that even the luckiest can not do. He went to the Nazi Germany Olympics in front of thousands of racist people, including Adolph Hitler, and took home four gold medals. Jesse Owens proved to the world not only that blacks are equal to any race, or that blacks can be world-class athletes, but also anyone can achieve their dreams.

Jesse Owens had a life no one could imagine, yet he still had a way of stopping to tread water and swam to shore. He had to have hope, determination, pride, and right judgments, to make it through. Jesse Owens’s life was hard to picture. From the brutality to blacks in the south, his family had escaped from. Jesse Owens was a descendent of slaves in the south. His parents were very poor sharecroppers in Alabama. They lived in a very tiny unheated house. Owens was the youngest of his six brothers and sisters. When Jesse was very young, his family decided to move to the north, to find a better job to feed the family and stay strong. After his school days, he even had to work to help his family stay afloat with money. In other words, he had to work so that his family can be stable financially. Jesse Owens married his high school sweetheart Ruth. Together they made three daughters, Gloria, Beverly, and Marlene. She has helped him in many ways, and his daughters gave him true inspiration. Through all the hard times he had, he still manage to tie world records when he was in high school. In college, at the Big Ten Championships, Owens was not suppose to compete due to a back injury. Undergoing some therapy, Owens pleaded the coach to let him compete, stating that he feel fine. Under the span of forty five minutes, Jesse Owens broke four world records.

The 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, was a very controversial event to the world. Especially, for Jesse Owens. In the Olympics at Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler decided that all his Aryan people were higher ranked than others. Hitler felt that will promote his racial supremacy. The United States was thinking to boycott the Olympic games but other athletes think that the even should not be a political reflection. (Official Olympic Committee) Hitler kept on promoting that his Aryan track stars will defeat the United States. Jesse Owens proved him wrong. Owens won four gold medals, four record in the one-hundred and two-hundred meter dashes, long jump, and the four-hundred meter relay.

(“American Decades”) Surprisingly the medals did not give him money, but gave his attention. German crowds were cheering for Owens instead of their own athletes. They were cheering for Jesse, because of the fact that he is a minority, who has been put down so many times, but won all his events and still be humble about it. He defeated German athlete Lutz Long, Lutz Long was the favored of Hitler. Hitler assumed that Long would be the star athlete. Remarkably, Lutz became very good friends with Owens. Hitler had snubbed Owens at the award ceremony. Owens did not say a single world, but smiled and shrugged. On the very top of the podium, he gave an American salute, as other Germans gave the Nazi salute. “Although I was not invited to shake hands with Hitler, I was not invited to the White House to shake hands with the President either.”( “think exist”) That quote from Jesse Owens proved that even though he defeated his country’s rival and that he was an Olympic champ, he was not appreciated in his own country.

Owens was looked as a role model because of his desire to help the community. Jesse Owens worked with children all around the globe. He treats kids as if they were his own. From helping them with education, athletics, with social and emotional problems, he was there for them. From the south side of Chicago to the streets of Berlin, Owens was glad and honored to help the children. He believes that kids are the future, and each one has the ability to change the world. (Schaap 62) Jesse Owens did not help children because of media or money but from the purity of his heart.

Jesse Owens was the member of the Southside Boys Club in Chicago, Illinois. Owens who was the member of board directors, helped kids in poor areas to stay out of trouble. He made them focus on education and athletics. Jesse Owens was remember by his motivational speeches. He talked them about having hope in times where you might not have any. He made most of them on Goodwill tours. By his own words he made sparkles in people’s eyes and the desire to strive for their dreams. Owens designed the Junior Olympic Games for youngsters in Chicago between the ages of twelve and seventeen. (Bourgoin) It included sports from swimming to track and field. He knew that by creating this organization, it would make it even more possible for children to realize they can do anything they want. He also knew that this would make a goal for kids to pursue into their achievements.

When Owens turned professional in some ways he still helped his community in various ways. In Europe he was asked to race professionally. He went all around the European countries, thinking he would get paid.(Jesse Owens Foundation) Until he had realized this was all a scam. Jesse Owens ran a couple of races against cars, horses and motorcycles. He even ran with baseball players but giving them a head start before beating them. From his expedition of professional racing he could afford to pay his tuition at Ohio State University. After his college graduation, he became a partner in a dry cleaning business but the business became bankrupted later on. In the 1940s, Owens was in huge debt and had three daughters to care for, so he became the director of Physical Education for Negroes, which brought him back to his feet. Later on, he became a personnel director for minority employment. A public relations firm was created by Jesse Owens.

He was becoming a legendary speaker at business and professional conventions. Owens inspired the hopeless to have hope, gave them the chance to see what is really inside of people. He became in hot water when he was opposing a black American boycott for the Olympics. People has nicked his name as “Uncle Tom” and a kiss up to white people. Angered by the reaction of people, he made a book called Blackthink, he later became more of an activist and published, I Have Changed.

Owens has not been recognized and appreciated until his late years of his life. Owens was shocked to realize that no one really appreciated what he had done for his country till many years later. Until forty years after he won medals, Owens was invited to the white house to accept a Presidential medal of Freedom from Gerald Ford. The award is given to people who made a change and promotes world peace. That is exactly what Jesse Owens did. Jimmy Carter honored Owens two years later with the Living Legend Award. The Living Legend award is given to artists, entertainers, writers, as well as athletes that promote diversity and contribute to the United States. The most significant honor that Jesse could ever get was ten years after his death, with the Congressional Gold medal. The Congressional award is given to an to an individual who performs an outstanding deed or act of service to the security, prosperity, and national interest of the United States.(“Congressional Gold Medal”) After many years of Jesse Owens’ hard work has paid off, even until after his death.

Jesse Owens health worsens when he just started to get respect and appreciation. As a long time smoker, Jesse Owens had developed lung cancer. (McConnell) He went to all hospitals that will get him the best treatment. He later got out of the Phoenix hospital and moved to Chicago. After his death, he was buried in Chicago at March 31st, 1980.

Jesse Owens had many significant memories but most of his life their was unfairness. He was born into a poor family, he also helped children., and competed in the Olympics. Also, he was never honored until later on in his life. The Modern world can benefit from Jesse Owens by not talking how good you are but showing how good you are. People today are very self centered and cocky, and one thing leads to another. Owens’ examples can change that. Jesse Owens inspired many people’s life back then, and inspired many today.

Works Cited

“Owens, Jesse (1913-1980).” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Suzanne M. Bourgoin. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998. Student Resource Center – Gold. Gale. PLAINFIELD NORTH HIGH SCHOOL. 6 Feb. 2008

“Owens, Jesse (1913-1980).” American Decades. McConnell, Tandy. Online ed. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center – Gold. Gale. PLAINFIELD NORTH HIGH SCHOOL. 6 Feb. 2008

Owens, Jesse (1913-1980).” Discovering Multicultural America. Online ed. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center – Gold. Gale. PLAINFIELD NORTH HIGH SCHOOL. 6 Feb. 2008

Schaap, Jeremy. “Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics.” Forward Association. New York. January 19, 2007

The Jesse Owens Foundation. Who is Jesse Owens. 1999-2000.

Official Olympic Committee. “Berlin 1936”. 2008