Owens, James Cleveland “Jesse”

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Owens, James Cleveland “Jesse“, born 12-09-1913, in Oakville, Alabama, the youngest of ten children, three girls and seven boys, born to Henry Cleveland Owens, a sharecropper and Mary Emma Fitzgerald. J.C., as he was called, was nine years old when the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for better opportunities, as part of the Great Migration, when 1.5 million African Americans left the segregated South. When his new teacher asked his name (to enter in her roll book), he said “J.C.”, but because of his strong Southern accent, she thought he said “Jesse”. The name stuck, and he was known as Jesse Owens for the rest of his life.

As a boy, Owens took different jobs in his spare time: he delivered groceries, loaded freight cars and worked in a shoe repair shop while his father and older brother worked at a steel mill. During this period, Owens realized that he had a passion for running. Throughout his life, Owens attributed the success of his athletic career to the encouragement of Charles Riley, his junior high track coach at Fairmount Junior High School. Since Owens worked in a shoe repair shop after school, Riley allowed him to practice before school instead.   

Owens and Minnie Ruth Solomon (1915-2001) met at Fairmount Junior High School in Cleveland when he was 15 and she was 13. They dated steadily through high school. Ruth gave birth to their first daughter, Gloria, in 1932. They married in 1935 and had two more daughters together: Marlene, born in 1939, and Beverly, born in 1940.

  They remained married until his death in 1980.

Owens first came to national attention when he was a student of East Technical High School in Cleveland; he equalled the world record of 9.4 seconds in the 100-yard (91 m) dash and long-jumped 24 feet 9 12 inches (7.56 metres) at the 1933 National High School Championship in Chicago.

Jesse, friend of world champion boxing Joe “Barrow” Louis , who had beaten the Nazi German box champion Max Schmeling, went to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin  and Adolf Hitler (Did you know) was not very happy with the success of the black athlete and did not shake hands with him like he did with the other medal winners. Owens did it not once, but four times , winning gold medals in the 100-meter dash, before his countryman Ralph Metcalfe and the Dutch volonteer SS policeman Tinus Osendarf

  200-meter dash, the long jump and the 4 x 100 meter relay.

In 1948, Osendarp was sentenced for 12 years in jail for acts he committed during the war. He was released early in 1953 and moved to Limburg to work in the mines. He died on 20-06-2002, age 89. in Heerlen.

The first race was captured by the German filmmaker/propagandist Leni Riefenstahl, Leni Riefenstahl made the documentary “Triumpf of the Will”, a Hitler glorification.

in her famous film documenting the 1936 Games, Olympia.  It’s all queued up above and ready to go. The Germans won the most medals, totaly 89 with 33 gold medals, like Tilly Fleischer,  gold in women’s javelin, before the USA with 56 medals with 24 gold. Now the cruel footnote to this story: after his four victories, Owens returned to the U.S. and immediately confronted the cold racist attitudes of his countrymen. There was no pause, no reprieve, even for an Olympic gold medalist. Later, he recalled:

When I came back to my native country, after all the stories about Hitler, I couldn’t ride in the front of the bus. I had to go to the back door. I couldn’t live where I wanted. I wasn’t invited to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn’t invited to the White House to shake hands with the President, either.

New York City did hold a ticker-tape parade in his honor. But when he attended a reception at the Waldorf-Astoria, he was forced to ride the freight elevator. And he didn’t make it to the White House until Eisenhower named him an “Ambassador of Sports” in 1955. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman never bothered to extend an invitation to the Olympic hero.

Death and burial ground of Owens, James Cleveland “Jesse”

 Owens, a pack-a-day cigarette smoker for 35 years, had been hospitalized with an extremely aggressive and drug-resistant type of lung cancer on and off beginning in December 1979. He died of the disease at age 66 in  Tucson, Arizona, on 31-03-1980, with his wife and other family members at his bedside. He is buried in Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago.

 

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