Jesse Owens

by Gabe from San Diego

The only easy day was yesterday.

A young African American stands tall at the end of the runway, ready to jump. It's 1936 in the Berlin Olympics. The young black man is competing against white people. What's worse, he's competing against Nazis. This young man became one of the world's greatest track and field athletes. They called him Jesse Owens. Jesse Owens, born James Cleveland Owens on September 12, 1913 in Danville, Alabama, was mistakenly nicknamed "Jesse" after his teacher misheard his real name when Owens proclaimed his name, "J.C.". Owens, raised by a family of sharecroppers and former slaves, grew up in extreme poverty. During World War I, the Owens family moved to Cleveland for better work and freedom. There, Jesse began his career as a track athlete. He met his coach and close friend Riley at Fairmount Junior High School, who trained Owens for year before he went on to make records. At the 1936 Summer Olympics, Owens went on to not only win gold but also make world records in the 4x100m, 100m, 200m, and Long Jump events. The following years after his performance at the Olympics were tough. Owens struggled with maintain jobs. He owned a Laundromat for some time until he filed for bankruptcy. Jesse Owens worked as a goodwill ambassador until he retired. Owens and his long-time girlfriend, Minnie Ruth Solomon, got married in 1935 after news got out about Minnie's pregnancy when she was only 17 and he was 19. They gave birth to three girls throughout their marriage. The two stayed together until Owens' death in 1980. Owens was a severe smoker and developed an extreme case of lung cancer. Owens died in Tuscon, Arizona, on March 31, 1980. Jesse Owens was a man of character. Endurance, Determination, and Courage were all traits he possessed. Because of his great accomplishments and experiences as an athlete and as an African American man, Jesse Owens became a motivational hero and an inspiration to others.

Jesse Owens, an enduring Olympic athlete struggled with poverty and racism as he grew up as a black male. For example, in Jesse Carney Smiths article,"Notable Black American Men: Book II", he states, "James Cleveland Owens was born September 12, 1913, in Oakville, Alabama. His father, Henry Owens, was a sharecropper, and Emma Fitzgerald Owens, his mother, took in washing and ironed clothes in order to earn extra money. But the family lived in extreme poverty. Owens was the tenth of eleven children consisting of four sisters and six brothers." (Smith). Owens' family was severely poor. They struggled with living. Sharecropping was difficult for African American croppers, for most of the crop share went to the actual landowner. Owens also struggled with racism, especially after his performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics: "He told Ebony in 1988:'I came back to my native country and couldn't ride in the front of the bus. I had to go to the back door.... I wasn't invited up to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn't invited to the White House to shake hands with the President, either.'" (Smith). Because of color of his skin, Jesse Owens, despite being an Olympic champion, still wasn't acknowledged for his incredible performance. He wasn't acknowledged until 19 years later when he was given the title "Ambassador of Sports" by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955. Overall, Jesse Owens showed endurance throughout his hard-knock life.

Owens, a determined young man from Alabama, made sure to work his hardest to help out his family. According to the article title "Jesse Owens" on the Biography Channel website, Owens was strong in his battles with sickness as he fought to provide for his family: "A frail child, Owens was often sick from his battles with chronic bronchial congestion and pneumonia. Still, he was expected to work, and at the young age of seven he was picking up to 100 pounds of cotton a day to help his family put food on the table." (The Biography Channel website). Owens was weak and was always sick, but his determination and love for his family helped him to endure and provide for his family. Owens was in pain all the time and still worked. Finally, Jesse Owens made sure to put his family first and strived to be successful: "Still, Owens was the only child from his large family to graduate from high school." Owen's family was poor and not well educated. Jesse was proud and determined to excel in his education and support his family. Owens was always a strong person in heart and made sure to always put his family first.

Jesse Owens was a man built with not only great power, but also great courage. Owens expressed his pure courage during the 1936 Berlin Olympics: "For Adolph Hitler and the Nazis, the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games were expected to be a German showcase and a statement for Aryan supremacy. Most notably, Hitler lambasted America for including black athletes on its Olympic roster." (The Biography Channel website). The Nazis wanted to showcase their power by trying to dominate in the Olympics. They were also beating on the U.S. for letting blacks compete. This for sure would have made Owens intimidated, but he found courage to compete anyways. Another example of his courage is shown by Baker in his article "Jesse Owens": "All this occurred against a backdrop of Nazi pageantry and German dictator Adolf Hitler's (1889-1945) daily presence and in an international scene of tension and fear." (Baker). Owens took a leap of faith and competed in front of not only white people, but Nazis. He took an abundant amount of courage and beat the German competitors. In conclusion, Jesse Owens was a man of considerable bravery and courage.

His excellent accomplishments and experiences as an elite athlete has proved Jesse Owens to be an inspirational hero. Jesse Owens was enduring, determined, and courageous during his life. He was a first-class athlete and human being. Jesse Owens was an icon of true athleticism and was an inspiration for other African-American Athletes to pursue their dreams. Owens inspired African American athletes to rise above the discrimination and segregation and go for the gold. In the article, "Jesse Owens" by Dana R. Barnes, the author illustrates a detail of Owens' hard work: "Riley started a rigorous training program for Owens in special morning sessions before school. Within a year, Owens was running the 100-yard dash in eleven seconds and in 1928 he set two world records for his age group in the high jump, at six feet, and the long jump, at twenty-two feet, eleven and three-quarters inches." (Barnes). Owens' hard work and determination is personally truly inspiring. Owens trained for a year and after broke world records. A true hero like Jesse Owens, possesses a strong, determined attitude that gives him the power to go over every obstacle and fulfill any dream.

Works Consulted

Baker, William. "Jesse Owens." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Gale, 2006. Biography In Context. Web. 10 May 2013.


"Encyclopedia of Alabama." Encyclopedia of Alabama. 21 May 2013 .


 Lowe, Frederick H. "Full Story." Full Story. North Star News. 21 May 2013 .


"Jesse Owens." 2013. The Biography Channel website. May 09 2013, 02:10


"Jesse Owens." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Biography In  Context. Web. 10 May 2013.


"JesseOWENS." Jesse OWENS. Olympic. 21 May 2013 .


"Jesse Owens." Notable Black American Men, Book II. Ed. Jessie Carney Smith. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Biography In Context. Web. 9 May 2013.


"Jesse Owens." Notable Sports Figures. Ed. Dana R. Barnes. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Biography In Context. Web. 10 May 2013.


"Owens, Jesse." Britannica Biographies (2012): 1. Biography Reference Center. Web. 9 May 2013.


  "The Jesse Owens Foundation." The Jesse Owens Foundation. 21 May 2013 .






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Last edited 6/26/2013 12:00:00 AM

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