Jesse Owens was born on September 12, 1913 in the small town of Danville, Alabama to Henry and Emma Owens.  Jesse and his family were sharecroppers.  When Jesse turned eight his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio.
Jesse attended Cleveland East Technical High School where as a student in gym class he had to run the 60yd. dash and he tied the school record.  His gym teacher Coach Riley asked if he'd like to join the the track team.  Coach Riley offered to train him, but Jesse could only do it in the morning since he needed to work everyday after school.  Coach Riley even provided Jesse with a big breakfast each day.  As a senior at Cleveland Jesse tied the world record for the 100 yd. dash with a time of 9.4 seconds.
With his success in track and field many colleges were very interested in offering Jesse a scholarship's  However, due to Jesse marrying at the young age of 16, and with a family to support he chose to try attending Ohio State University.  Working many jobs at school such as waiting tables, a library aide, as an elevator operator, playground instructor, and he even raced against a race horse in a 100 yd. dash.
At a Big Ten Meet on May 25, 1935 at Ann Arbor, Jesse was able to accomplish what no other athlete had, he set three world records and tied a fourth, even though he suffered with back pain from a fall down a flight of stairs.
After his sophomore year he joined the US Track & Field Team for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany also known as "Hitler's Olympics". These were the first Olympic games to be broadcast and televised.
The United States like many others were concerned about what was happening in Germany with the gross mistreatment of the Jews.  However, at no time did President Franklin D. Roosevelt become involved in the boycott issue, believing instead that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) should remain independent. The 1936 Olympic games were attended by 49 countries and 4,000 athletes.
Jesse was determined to represent his country to the best of his ability in spite of all the racial tension from Hitler's belief's that the German "Aryan" people were the superior race.
Jesse one of 10 African-American athlete's on the US team captured a gold medal in the 100 meters with a time of 10.3 seconds.  His second gold medal came in the 200 meters, and what should have been is easiest event the long jump proved to be more difficult.  When he fouled on his first two jumps.  Jesse followed the advice of German's Luz Long when he told him "What's eating you?  You should be able to qualify with you're eyes closed."
Later in the day he and Lang tied each other, at 25'10" which drove Jesse even more to his winning jump of 26' - 1/2".  They left the landing pits together as friends for the remainder of their lives. Jesse later said about Long that "You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn't be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment.
Before the day was over Jesse would win his fourth gold medal as part of the 4x100 relay team. The Americans weren't the only ones cheering for Jesse Owens. Many of the German fans alike thought him a hero, calling him the "Tan Cyclone".
Jesse Owens's record of winning four gold medals in a single day remained till 1984 when Carl Lewis won in the same four events.
After the Olympics Jesse continued to speak out and stress the importance of religion, hard work, loyalty and sponsored many youth groups.
In 1976 he was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford for overcoming segregation, racism and bigotry in the world of athletics.
Since his death of cancer in 1980 at the age of 66 Jesse Owens is remembered for all that he accomplished. His wife and daughters today manage the Jesse Owens's Foundation, which helps many young people pursue their goals for the future.
While a student at Cleveland High one of Jesse's teachers misunderstood his real name James Cleveland Owens (JC), thought he'd said Jesse and it stayed that forever.
As a student and a member of the Ohio State Track and Field Team Jesse was faced with difficulty of racism.  He could never eat or stay with his team, but at "black's only" hotels and restaurants. He also had to live off campus like all African-Americans at that time. 



Greg Roberts

Rossville Jr High -7th Grade

2002 Holocaust Projects