James Cleveland Owens was born in Danville, Alabama in 1913. After his family moved to Ohio, he became known as "Jesse", derived from his initials "J.C.". Owens competed as a runner while at Ohio State University, setting two world records.
The 1936 Olympics were held in Berlin. Chancellor Adolf Hitler had put on a massive propoganda campaign claiming that Aryan supremacy would win the games for the Nordic countries. Owens, a Black man, won gold medals in four events, beating several world records and embarrassing the Nazis. The Nation wrote:
...when two American Negroes placed first and second in the 100-meter dash Hitler couldn't take it. Rather than shake hands with Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, who are the world's fastest runners, the great leader of Berlin was forced to congratulate two white German champion hammer-throwers in his private headquarters under the stadium.
Owens moved to Chicago in 1949 where he worked in public relations. He died of lung cancer in Phoenix, Arizona, on March 31 1980.
His grave reads:
Athlete and humanitarian, a master of the spirit as well
as the mechanics of sports. A winner who knew that
winning was not everything. He showed extraordinary love
for his family and friends. His achievements have shown us all
the promise of America. His faith in America inspired
countless others to do their best for themselves and their