Black History

In the Spotlight #8 – Jesse Owens




“I let my feet spend as little time on the ground as possible. From the air, fast down, and from the ground, fast up”


James “Jesse” Owens may be still widely known in the sports realm as one of the greatest athletes in sporting history. The track and field athlete was born in September 1913 in Cleveland, Ohio to a large family of six older siblings. In 1928, Owens athletic career began in Junior high school where he set records clearing 6 feet in the high jump, and leaping 22 feet 11 3/4 inches in the broad jump.

Through Owens’ school days he won all of the major track events, including the Ohio state championship consecutively for three years. He set a new high school world record where he ran 100 yards in 9.4 seconds and 220 yards in 20.7 seconds. His track and field career achievements in high school lead him to be recruited by many colleges however Owens chose Ohio State University even though OSU couldn’t offer a track scholarship. Owens worked doing a variety of jobs to support his family.

In May 1935, Owens demonstrated to the world just a glimpse of his talents while competing at the Big Ten Championships setting three world records and tied a fourth.

In the Berlin Olympics, 1936, Jesse competed in the games. Despite the Nazi German presence and Hitler’s high hopes that the Games would confirm his belief in the German Aryan people were superior in every way and would dominate the games, Owens’s four gold medals obliterated that idea completely. Owens was the first American track & field athlete to achieve this. “During a time of deep-rooted segregation, he not only discredited Hitler’s master race theory, but also affirmed that individual excellence, rather than race or national origin, distinguishes one man from another.”

Athletes during that time weren’t provided with advertisements or endorsement campaigns and so Owens had to continue to support his family with many jobs. Though Owens was busy working, supporting himself and his family, he still found time to encourage or support others. One job, a playground director in Cleveland began his career to working with underprivileged youth. In the days after his Olympic success, Owens became an inspirational speaker, encouraging many people from different ages, professions and backgrounds.

Owens died in March 1980 due to lung cancer complications.

“For a time, at least, I was the most famous person in the entire world.” Yet even though he was known for a short moment globally, he had set records that have been recorded forever.

“Friendships are born on the field of athletic strife and the real gold of competition. Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust.”


For more information:


Watch Owens in action

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