Jesse Owens

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Jesse Owens

James Cleveland Owens was born in 1913 in a small town in Alabama to Henry and Emma Owens. When J.C. was eight, his parents decided to move the family to Cleveland, Ohio because Jesse’s pnemonia was worsening, and their sharecropper wanted more of their money. They did not have much money, and J.C.'s father was hoping to find a better job. When they arrived in Cleveland, J.C. was enrolled in a public school. On his first day of class when the teacher asked his name, she heard Jesse, instead of J.C. He would be called Jesse from that point on.

Cleveland was not as prosperous as Henry and Emma had hoped and the family remained very poor. Jesse took on different jobs in his spare time. He delivered groceries, loaded freight cars and worked in a shoe repair shop. It was during this time that Jesse discovered he enjoyed running, which would prove to be the turning point in his life.

One day in gym class, the students were timed in the 60-yard dash. When Coach Charlie Riley saw the raw, yet natural talent that young Jesse had, he immediately invited him to run for the track team. Although Jesse was unable to participate in after-school practices because of work, Coach Riley offered to train him in the mornings. Jesse agreed.

At Cleveland East Technical High School Jesse became a track star. As a senior, he tied the world record in the 100-yard dash with a time of 9.4 seconds, only to tie it again while running in the Interscholastic Championships in Chicago. While in Chicago, he also leaped a distance of 24 feet 9 5/8 inches in the broad-jump.

Many colleges and universities tried to recruit Jesse; he chose to attend Ohio State University because he didn’t want to live well while his parents were almost in poverty, and the track coach found a permanent job for Jesse’s father, and arranged jobs for him to pay for his room, and board. Here Jesse met some of his fiercest competition, and not just on the track. The United States was still struggling to desegregate in 1933, which led to many difficult experiences for Jesse. He was required to live off campus with other African-American athletes. When he traveled with the team, Jesse could either order carryout or eat at "blacks-only" restaurants. Likewise, he slept in "blacks-only" hotels. On occasion, a "white" hotel would allow the black athletes to stay, but they had to...

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...ations firm. He traveled around the country spoke on behalf of companies like Ford and the United States Olympic Committee. He stressed the importance of religion, hard work and loyalty. He also sponsored and participated in many youth sports programs in underprivilaged neighborhoods.

In 1976, Jesse was awarded the highest honor a civilian of the United States can receive. President Gerald R. Ford awarded him with the Medal of Freedom. Jesse overcame segregation, racism and bigotry to prove to the world that African-Americans belonged in the world of athletics. Several years later, on March 31, 1980, Jesse Owens,66, died in Tucson from complications due to cancer.

Through all the trials, tribulations and successes, Jesse Owens was a devoted and loving family man. He married his longtime high school sweetheart, Ruth Solomon, in 1935. Together they had three daughters, Gloria, Beverly and Marlene. To this day, his widow Ruth and daughter Marlene operate the Jesse Owens Foundation, striving to provide financial assistance and support to deserving young individuals that otherwise would not have the opportunity to pursue their goals. Jesse would certainly be proud of their efforts.
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