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Jesse Owens

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One of the most influential events in American history occurred when Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. This accomplishment and others that he would achieve in his life time, given the historical context in which he rose to fame, inspired people for many generations. Jesse Owens created a historic legacy not just because of his record finishes on the track, but also due to the challenging times in which he competed.

Born on September 12, 1913, in Oakville, Alabama, Jesse Owens grew up working on several farms. Jesse’s father, a sharecropper, worked for little pay farming other peoples’ land. As young children, Jesse and his six siblings picked cotton on a rich man’s farm in Alabama. At age nine the Owens family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Jesse worked in grocery stores as a nine year old in Cleveland to bring in extra money for his family. (Raatma 8-9) Jesse began running track and field in middle school. In 1928 he set many middle school records including jumping almost twenty-three feet in the long jump (“About Jesse Owens” 1). Jesse went to East Technical High School in the 1930s where he continued to set records and develop as a track and field star. In fact, in his Junior Year, at the National Interscholastic Championship, Jesse set the 220-yard dash record and tied the world record in the 100-yard dash. The city of Cleveland, in order to demonstrate their pride, honored Jesse Owens with a citywide parade marking his debut into the spotlight. (Raatma 13)

After an impressive high school track and field career, Jesse Owens studied at Ohio State University. He did not receive a scholarship for his athleticism, so he had to work many jobs to pay for his education. Jesse did not love academics...

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...d Field hall of fame inducted Jesse Owens into its ranks. Two years later, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Ford. In 1979, President Carter presented Jesse Owens with the Living Legend Award. That year Jesse also learned he had lung cancer. Jesse Owens died from lung cancer on March 31, 1980. (Raatama 35-37)

Jesse Owens accomplished more than just four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics. He showed the world that anyone can do whatever they want if they follow their dreams. Owens created a lasting legacy not just because of his record running times, but also due to the obstacles he overcame that plagued minorities in Hitler’s Germany. Jesse Owens’ influential story of the Berlin Olympics became an important part of American history since it symbolizes the drive of the American spirit to succeed despite the challenges we may face.
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