Thursday, August 7, 2014

Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics

The 1936 Olympics were in Berlin, Germany, during the rule of Adolf Hitler. Hitler hoped to use the Olympics to show the superior prowess of the German athletes. He wanted to deny Jewish and black athletes the right to participate in the Olympics.

Jesse Owens was a successful track and field athlete at Ohio State University and held several world records. He, along with several other African-American athletes, was selected for the United States Olympic team. Though the International Olympic Committee finally forced the Germans to allow all those who were qualified to participate, many in the United States suggested that Owens and other athletes should boycott the games.
Walter White, the director of the NAACP, was one of those who spoke out against Owens’ participation. In a 1936 letter that was never sent to Owens, White wrote that, “It is my firm conviction that the issue of participation in the 1936 Olympics, if held in Germany under the present regime, transcends all other issues. Participation by American athletes, and especially by those of our own race which has suffered more than any other from American race hatred, would, I firmly believe, do irreparable harm.”
Letter from Walter White to Jesse Owens 12/4/1935

life history written as part of the Federal Writer’s Project quotes Owens as responding to critics, “After all, since we are all Americans, Negroes should have a chance in every sport. Certainly the showing of Negroes in track events shows that if they have half a chance, they produce the goods”.
Jesse Owens won four Olympic medals in the 1936 Olympics, confirming that he could “produce the goods.” Others have won as many medals, but few experienced the kind of pressure Owens did.

This Is Your Life TV Program featuring Jesse Owens

No comments: