Jesse Owens: History, 1936 Olympic Games, and Major Accomplishments
There’s no other athlete in the history of the earth that has made a considerable impact in sports than Jesse Owens. Popularly known as the “The Buckeye Bullet”, Jesse Owens was a track and field athlete who competed at the 1936 Olympic Games, where he won four gold medals and broke two world records. His victories during the tournament blocked the then-German leader Adolf Hitler’s goal of showcasing Aryan superiority.
Early Life & Education
Owens was born in Oakville, Alabama to Henry Owens and Mary Fitzgerald. He was the youngest of ten children. When he was a young boy, he discovered his passion for running and started his track career in junior high. He received national interest when he equaled the then-running world record during the National High School Championship in 1933.
He attended Ohio State University, where he had a successful college track career, winning 8 individual NCAA championships during that time. Unfortunately, he wasn’t afforded certain luxuries due to racial segregation.
1936 Olympic Victory
Owens achieved international fame when he won four gold medals and broke two world records at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany.
The room where Owens lived during the 1936 Olympics has been converted into a museum featuring pictures of his achievements and wins, as well as a letter from a fan requesting him to not shake hands with Adolf Hitler.
Awards and Honors
Owens had an extremely successful career, receiving numerous awards and recognition for his achievements:
- He won AP Athlete of the Year in 1936.
- He was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1970.
- President Gerald Ford bestowed upon Jesse Owens the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976. The honor is the highest civilian honor in the United States.
- In 1976, Owens was inducted into the Silver Olympic Order for his four-time victory in the 1936 Olympic Games.
- He was presented the Living Legend Award by President Carter in 1979.
- In 1980, the newly-discovered asteroid was named 6758 Jesseowens.
Posthumous Awards and Recognition:
- The Jesse Owens Award was created by the USA Track and Field, which is presented to top track and field athletes in the United States.
- In 1983, he was selected as part of the maiden class into the US Olympic Hall of Fame.
- He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George Bush in 1990.
- Two postage stamps were issued in 1990 and 1998 in honor of the athlete.
- Sixty years after his Olympic wins, his hometown of Oakville dedicated the Jesse Owens Memorial Park and Museum.
- In 1999, he was ranked the sixth best North American athlete of the 1900s by ESPN and also shortlisted for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Century award.
- The city of Cleveland renamed the East Roadway the Jesse Owens Way.
- The Jesse Owens Medical Centre in Phoenix, Arizona was named in his honor.
Did you know?
Owens has been referenced in various pop culture phenomena over the past thirty years:
The Emmy Award-winning TV film of Owens’ life “The Jesse Owens Story” was released in 1984. Actor Dorian Harewood portrayed the athlete.
The 2006 novel “The Book Thief”, written by Markus Zusak had a character that was a fan of Owens.
In 2016, actor Stephan James played Owens in the feature film “Race.” That same year, another film “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” told the story of Owen and 17 other Black American athletes on their journey to the Olympic games in 1936.
In the 2017 hit horror movie “Get Out”, the villain, Roman Armitage failed to qualify in the 1936 Olympics to Owens, inspiring him to begin kidnapping and stealing the brains of young black men.
In the satirical 2019 film “Jojo Rabbit”, the character of Adolf Hitler referred to another character as “a little female Jewish Jesse Owens.”
He married his childhood sweetheart Minnie Ruth Solomon. They welcomed their daughter, Gloria in 1932 and got married in 1935. They had two other daughters, Marlene and Beverly. They married until he passed away in 1980.
Owens was a chain smoker for over 30 years, picking up the habit when he was 32 years old. In 1979, he spent a lot of his time between hospitals after being diagnosed with lung cancer. He died in March of the following year and was buried at the Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago.