World history up for auction
It was a racial thing, a fact that was never disputed.
In 1936, an African American set the world on fire, and upset the plans of a dictator.
Adolf Hitler, in 1936, planned to show the world the pure dominance of his superior “Aryan race.” Hosting the Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, Hitler’s propaganda machine had begun well in advance, including loud speaker services through the streets of Germany and forced opening ceremony attendance.
Upon entry to the stadium at the beginning of the games, the Americans were the only nation not to dip the flag at the passing of the review stands. An act of defiance that echoed through the commentators of the first televised games. In that group of athletic Americans was an African American from Cleveland Ohio, his name was Jessie Owens.
Holding world track & field records as well as many collegiate track and field records, Owens was not a celebrated athlete that you see today. He received no scholarships for college and worked odd jobs to pay for school. But he could run, and at a time the world, America and African Americans needed it most, he ran fast.
Jessie Owens competed in the 100m, 200m, Long Jump and the 4x100m relay, winning Olympic gold in all four events. As an African American, Owens was often mistreated by the host country of Germany, being asked to leave the stadium after winning, before the winners ceremony took place. Owens took the racism in stride, and took home the gold for his race and his country.
It has been written that Hitler reflected upon Owens’s victories with a “shrug as African physiques were primitive and stronger than whites.”
Owens did not face racism just abroad, in fact in some instances in Germany the treatment of Owens improved. At the time in the United States, Owens was forced to stay at “Black Only” hotels and even had to ride the service freight elevator at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York to attend a benefit in his honor.
In Germany Owens was allowed to stay at “white” German hotels and traveled with “white” athletes, not a “privilege” afforded African American athletes of the time in the United States.
Upon his return to the United States, Owens was asked about his treatment and his reply made headlines all over the country, “”Hitler didn’t snub me‚ it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.”
It was true. An election year for Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president was afraid he would loose the “southern white” vote if he was seen playing “kowtow” to an African American man. FDR never invited Owens to the White House following his triumphs at the games. Owens rightfully endorsed Alf Landon during the election.
It would take until 1955 when the President Dwight D. Eisenhower, an athlete himself, honored Owens by naming him an “Ambassador of Sports”
What of the four gold medals? Owens once said, “I have four gold medals, you can not eat gold medals.” In fact three have been lost and no one knows where they are at last report. Recently the fourth, and Owens first for the 100m has surfaced and is currently being auctioned off. The current bid, $200,000.00. The current bid is far less than most believe this historic medal is worth.
Though officially the United States would not enter World War II until 1941, five years after Owens defeated the Nazis at the Olympic Games of 1936, Owens provided the world proof that Nazi Germany could be defeated and that Hitler’s “Master Race” was a fraud.
Back home Jessie Owens remained married to his Junior High sweetheart Minnie Solomon of Cleveland. They married a year before the games. He was a father of three daughters and they remained married until his passing in March 31, 1980 in Tucson, Arizona of lung cancer.
A few months before his death, Owens had tried unsuccessfully to convince President Jimmy Carter not to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics. He argued that the Olympic ideal was to be a time-out from war and above politics.
For me, there have been many defining moments in sport over the years from all races of athletes.
In 1976 a 14-year-old Romanian girl captured the hearts of the world earning the first perfect score, a 10.0 for her performance on the uneven parallel bars. Nadia Comaneci would go on that year to capture 6 more perfect scores.
Dennis Phillips / Publisher