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, were inspiring given the historical context in which he rose to fame. 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.
Jesse Owens was born on September 12, 1913, in Oakville, Alabama. Jesse’s father was a sharecropper which meant he was paid to farm other peoples’ land. Jesse had six siblings who picked cotton with him on a rich man’s farm in Alabama when they were young. 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 was so proud of Jesse that they honored him 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. He was not a great student, but he was the best on the track team at Ohio State University and the best in the country.(Raatma 14) On May 25, 1935, as a sophomore in college, Jesse competed in a track and field meet at Ann Arbor, Michigan. That day he won four events, set three world records, and he tied a fourth record all in forty-five minutes. He tied the world record by running the one hundred yard dash in nine point four-seconds. He then broke a world record by jumping twenty-six feet eight and one quarter inches in the long jump. Later, he finished the two hundred twenty yard dash in twenty point three-seconds for another world record. That same day, he broke a third world record by finishing the two hundred twenty yard low hurdle race in twenty-two point six seconds.(Shwartz 1) He was so outstanding at track and field, that during his junior year of college he won every single one of the forty-two events in which he competed. Three of those events were Olympic trials for the 1936 Olympics (“About Jesse Owens” 3) guarantying that he would be going to Berlin to compete for a medal.
The 1936 Olympic games took place in Berlin, Germany, when Jesse Owens was twenty-two. At that time, Adolf Hitler was the ruler of Germany. Hitler believed that the German or “Aryan” race was superior to all...