It may have been fate or mere coincidence, that James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens moved with his family to Cleveland when he was just 9 years old. Legend has it that when his new teacher asked him what his name was he responded “J.C.” in a such a strong southern accent that his teacher misheard him and started to call him Jesse. The nickname stuck. Jesse was first encouraged by his Fairmount Junior High track coach to pursue track. He learned that he had a passion for running and was also pretty good at it. While attending East Technical High School on the city’s east side, he ran a 9.4 second 100-yard dash which tied the world record. After graduation, Owens attended the Ohio State University where he obtained the nickname “the Buckeye Bullet”. During his time at Ohio State, he won an NCAA record, eight individual NCAA Championships (four in both 1935 and 1936). His most significant collegiate achievement however was at the 1935 Big Ten track meet. He tied the world record in the 100 yard dash, set the world record in the long jump, 220 yard spring, and 220 yard hurdles. This all occurred within a span of 45 minutes. In 2001, the university named the track stadium and three recreational centers in his honor.
Photo via: KPBS.org
During the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Jesse Owens had become a household name. In 1936, Germany was starting to thrive after suffering from a long depression. Adolf Hitler had used the games as propaganda to show off Germany and the concept of Aryan racial superiority. To Hitler’s demise, Owens took home four gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4 x 100m relay, and the long jump. It was not only one of the greatest Olympic performances of all time, but also became a significant racial and political symbol.