Digital History
Jesse Owens
Digital History ID 1080

Author:   Jesse Owens

Annotation: At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, track star Jesse Owens, the son of poor Alabama sharecroppers and the grandson of slaves, won four gold medals -- in the 100 and 200 meter dashes, the 400 meter relay, and the long jump. These were events of immense symbolic importance, shattering the Nazi Party's claims of Aryan superiority.

Owens's triumphs came at a key moment in the drift toward World War II. In March 1936, Hitler had remilitarized the Rhineland and announced that he would disregard the Versailles treaty ending World War I and Hitler hoped to use the Olympics for propaganda purposes.

Despite his historic four gold medals Owens was banned for life from Olympic athletics in August 1936. He was barred from Olympics because the U.S. Olympic officials accused him of being a "professional." Meanwhile, the United States Olympic officials also showed cowardice 1936, when two Jewish sprinters were withheld from the Olympic relay finals.

Document: I always loved was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs."

"People come out to see you perform and you've got to give them the best you have within you..."

"The lives of most men are patchwork quilts. Or at best one matching outfit with a closet and laundry bag full of incongruous accumulations."

"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."

"A lifetime of training for just ten seconds."

"It was all right with me. I didn't go to Berlin to shake hands with him, anyway. All I know is that I'm here now, and Hitler isn't."

"When I came back, after all those stories about Hitler and his snub, I came back to my native country, and I could not ride in the front of the bus. I had to go to the back door. I couldn't live where I wanted. Now what's the difference?"

"They have kept me alive over the years. Time has stood still for me. That golden moment dies hard."

"I don't jog because I can't run flat-footed. And at sixty years old you're crazy to be out there running."

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