Jesse Owens was born on September 12, 1913 on a farm near Danville, Alabama. His parents were both sharecroppers whose ancestors were slaves. They named their son James Cleveland Owens, but called him Jesse because of his initials J.C. The Owens family moved to Cleveland when Jesse was seven. During high school he excelled in sprinting and soon became nationally known for his running. From 1933 to 1936 he attended Ohio State University.
While at a competition Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1935 Jesse broke 3 world records for 220 yards dash with a time of 0.20.3, the 220 yard low hurdles with a time of 0.22.6 and the long jump with a measurement of 26'9," which was not beaten for 25 years. He also tied the record for the 100 yard dash which was a time of 0.9.4. Winning the 100, 200, and long jump at the trails he qualified to be in the Berlin Olympics of 1936. During the Olympics he set 4 new records for running. The 100 meter dash with a time of 0.10.3, the 200 meter dash with a time of 0.20.7, the long jump with a measurement of 25'5 1/2" and the 400 meter relay with a time of 0.39.8.
Since Owens was of African American descent, leaders like Adolph Hitler and Franklin Roosevelt ignored him, or "snubbed" him. Franklin Roosevelt did not send a note of congratulations to Jesse and he did not bother to invite him to the White House. The Amateur Athletic Union (A.A.U.) also snubbed Jesse. They claimed he had refused to run the Swedish meet, so they suspended him. But Jesse never agreed to enter in the A.A.U.
After the famous 1936 Olympics, Jesse race dogs, horses, and motorcycles to help put food on the table. Getting tired of that he sent his name out to several cleaning that soon went bankrupt and left Jesse in $114,000 of debt. After he finally got financial security, he became a public speaker, with speeches about religion, patriotism, and marketing for a salesman. In 1970 Jesse wrote a book called Blackthink, which criticized blacks and whites taking up weapons on each other. In 1972, he published another book called I have Changed.
On March 31,1980 Jesse died with a lung cancer in Tucson, Arizona. He had been smoking for 35 years, and taking in at least a pack a day. In spite of this addiction, Jesse Owen made a wide-ranging contribution to black Americans as he fought racism and prejudice. Even though he was a direct victim of racism, he did not allow it to lessen his dignity and pride in his identity.
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