: September 12, 1913
Born in: Lawrence County, Alabama
Died on: March 31, 1980
Nationality: African - American
Career: Professional athlete
Jesse Owens was a track and field athlete who participated in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany and achieved great success. He won four gold medals; in 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump and 4x100 meter relay race. He is considered as one of the greatest athletes of all times. There is even a foundation by his name; known as the ‘Jesse Owens Foundation’ that provides information, materials and directions for research on the life and career of Owens.
Jesse Owens or James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens was born on September 12, 1913 in Lawrence County, Alabama in the Oakville community. His parents were Henry and Emma Owens. At the age of nine, his father moved to Cleveland, Ohio. He was from a poor family; his grandfather was a slave and his father was a sharecropper. During his childhood, he regularly fell sick and his mother called this sickness as the devil's cold.
The name "Jesse" was not given by his parents; his teacher in Cleveland who did not quite understand his accent gave him this name. There is a very intriguing story behind it. When Owens was asked his name, he said his name was J.C. The teacher took it as "Jesse" and thereafter he came to be known as Jesse. Life was really tough for the whole family. Owens had to take up different jobs and work in his spare time. He worked as a delivery boy, delivering groceries, loading freight cars and also worked at a shoe-repair shop. It is during this time that he came to realize that how much he loved running.
He always credited his immense success to Charles Riley, who always encouraged him to do well. He was also Owens' junior-high school track coach at
Fairview Junior High. It is also interesting to note that since Jesse did not have time to practice running after school hours as he was working at the shoe-repair shop, Riley allowed him to practice before school instead. During his stint with East Technical High School in Cleveland, he created a world record when he completed a 100 yard (91m) dash in just 9.4 seconds and long jumped 24 feet 9 ½ inches at the 1933 National High School Championship in Chicago.
Owens was lovingly called the Buckeye Bullet because of his lightning fast speed. He attended the Ohio State University. It was here that he won a record eight individual NCAA championships, during 1935 and 1936. Although he was enjoying athletic success, he had to live off-campus with other African-American athletes as he was not allowed to live inside the campus. He also never received a scholarship which meant he had to work part-time to pay his school fees. He used to eat at "black-only" restaurants.
His greatest success during his University days came in the year 1935. On May 25, 1935 at the Big Ten meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he set three world records and was tied for the fourth. He was also a member of the Aplha Phi Aplha, which was the first inter-collegiate organization that was formed for the African-American athletes.
Owens came to Berlin in 1936 to participate in the Summer Olympics for the United States. Hitler was using this as a platform to showcase to the world, a resurgent Nazi Germany. Germany had hopes that their athletes would win and dominate the tournament with wins in all categories. However, it was not to be; to everyone's surprise Owens won four gold medals. On August 3, 1936, he won the 100m sprint race, on August 4; he won the long jump event, on August 5, the 200m dash and afterwards the 4x100m relay.
Owen never received any sort of honor by any of the President, neither was he ever invited to the White House. However, in 1955, President Dwight D.Eisenhower acknowledged his accomplishments, and named him the 'Ambassador of Sports'. During the Olympics, Owens had a huge fan following whereby more than 110,000 people gathered to cheer him and many took his autographs as well.
After the Olympics ended, Owens was invited to come to Sweden but he declined the offer and instead decided to return to U.S to take up some commercial offers that he had been receiving. This made the American athletic officials very angry and they immediately took off the amateur status from Owens, which ended his career immediately. Now, with no sporting appearances, the commercial plans also never quite saw the light of the day. He earned his living by being a sports promoter, and an entertainer. He also challenged various race-horses and defeated them.
Later, he started a dry-cleaning business and also worked as a gas-station attendant. But he went bankrupt and was also fined for tax evasion. His rehabilitation work started as a U.S goodwill ambassador. As a US goodwill ambassador he traveled all over the world.
Minnie Ruth Solomon was Jesse’s wife. They met at Fairmount Junior High School in Cleveland when he was fifteen and she was just thirteen. Throughout the high school, they were together and then Ruth gave birth to Gloria, their first daughter, in 1932. Subsequently, they married in 1935 and had two more daughters: Marlene (1937) and Beverly (1940).
Jesse Owens received many awards and tributes after his death. A few months before his death, Owens had even tried to convince President Jimmy Carter not to boycott the Olympics of 1980.
- Gold Medals, 100-yard dash and 200-yard dash, National Interscholastic Championship
- Gold Medals, 100-yard dash, 220-yard dash, broad jump, 220-yard hurdles, 200-meter dash, and 200-meter low hurdles
- Olympic Gold Medals, 100-meter dash, long jump, 200-meter dash, and 400-meter relay
- Associated Press Athlete of the Year
- Induction into the U.S.A. Track and Field Hall of Fame
- Presidential Medal of Freedom
- Induction into the U.S. Olympic Committee Hall of Fame