WATCH: Jesse Owens Explained

TheGrio is celebrating Juneteenth by sharing the story of sports hero Jesse Owens.

With Juneteenth just behind us, theGrio is taking a look back at the historical figures that paved the way for us today. The video above narrates the life of Jesse Owens; the following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Kevin Frazier [00:00:00] Could one Black man discredit the myth of white supremacy by winning gold? Jesse Owens, one of the Olympic Games’ greatest stars, stood tall in the face of racism, both at home and abroad. Born James Cleveland, Jesse Owens was the son of Alabama sharecroppers. He would grow up to become the fastest person on the planet.

Owens began his athletic career in high school and immediately became a star with his unique, upright running style. In college, he was the first Black student to be chosen as the captain of a sports team at Ohio State University. But even then, the captain of the track team was barred from on campus housing because of the school’s segregationist policies.

In 1936, Jesse Owens qualified for the Olympic Games that were being hosted by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party in Germany. Now, Hitler believed the Games would be a showcase for the Nazis and would reinforce Aryan supremacy. Hitler criticized America for including Black athletes. But it was those eighteen African-Americans, including Owens, who helped secure America’s success at the Games.

Now, Owens competed in the 100 meter dash, the long jump, the 200 meter dash and the four by 100 meter relay. And he took gold in each and every event. He became the first American of any color in Olympic track and field history to win four gold medals in a single Olympics.

Unfortunately, Owens historic feats did not garner the typical celebratory fanfare when he returned to the United States. It wasn’t until 1955 when President Dwight Eisenhower honored Owens by naming him ambassador of sports. Now, despite the snubs, Owens to this day, is regarded as the greatest and most famous athlete in track and field history. Jesse Owens, a man who outran Hitler’s hate and America’s discrimination and managed to jump into history and leave a lasting legacy.

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