Jesse Owens: the man who proved the Fuhrer wrong

Jesse Owens: the man who proved the Fuhrer wrong

Stars are born to shine in the dark of the night sky and, even though there is little concern as to their significance in giving light to the night (however minimal it may seem to be).
The stars still go on to shine upon the face of the celestial sky and give light in the long winter nights when the skies are at their clearest.
Such little concern as to the significance of their existence does not however demean their value or reduce their brightness; the stars remain bright however dark the night is, and those individuals that become our stars are indeed stars because they most often attain their valiant glories in a time when the world in which we live passes through phases that can bluntly be termed the long night of history’s winter.

The tale of the world is interspersed with sad histories of long wars which affected all of the human race and all the other animal and plant species that reside therein, and the tales of the superstars of the world are intermingled with this history. They suffer as the others of their kind suffer, and they toil in the same sweaty confines and feel the same lash of the whip and humiliation as their comrades in the struggle of an extended form of slavery perpetrated by the ruling classes who “own” both the means and the modes of production, and whose sole goal seems to be the oppression of the masses for the benefit of the few.

These stars shine in spite of or despite the travails of the era within which they live. Jesse Owens is such a hero; and he triumphed against one of the worst megalomaniacal racists the world has ever seen: Adolf Hitler, the German Fuhrer who started the Second World War, who systematically exterminated more than 6 million Jews and 56 million other world citizens over the course of the seven years that began in 1939 and ended in 1945.  The real roots of racism lie not in colour, but they as Dale Carnegie (he who penned the masterpiece How to Make Friends and Influence People) states, lie in the simple fact that human beings are by nature racist. Whether defined by tribe, clan, or colour group racism is in simple terms the misconception by one individual or group of individuals that they are superior or inferior to the other. The “other” is judged just on the nonsensical basis of their tribe, clan, or, colour group, and not on the substance of their humanity and acumen, which in turn defrauds humanity of the opportunity to progress in harmony as one individual unit. The world we live in is poorer this day not because there are no means to balance the status quo; the world is poorer because of sustained racism that with every era metamorphoses into some other entity that is worse than the previous version.  All of these forms of racism are hinged on one human quality; the natural difference in colour, which is in turn supported by the created qualities such as tribe, clan, creed, and affiliation.

The current popular form of racism is nepotism which grants benefits only to those that are family members, affiliates, and mates. What is missed is the simple fact that humanity loses out the benefits of the potential in the individuals forming part of the excluded groups or sectors within society whose contribution could benefit global progress if they are granted the opportunity to express their varied talents. Jesses Owens proved this point as part of the American Olympic Team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in full sight of Adolf Hitler and his supporters of the twisted theory of a superior Aryan race.

The simple black man from Alabama (where he was born) blew it to smithereens by winning the four gold medals despite the fact that he came from a race group considered the “primitive” under-class of the world. The kind of racism Jesse Owens faced can be traced from its primitive roots to the pseudo-scientific Aryan beliefs espoused by Adolf Hitler in his book Mein Kampf.  Berlin was the arena where Hitler would showcase Nazi dominance through his Aryan athletes, and in Owens’ America, the issue of race was a tragic one that saw entire race groups taken into slavery from their lands of birth and aboriginal Indian tribes annihilated for their land. White supremacy in America was only a variation of those beliefs held around the world, which manifested itself in the form of bigotry and blood spill (remember the lynch mobs and the KKK).

Despite many African Americans who had proved their worth in many fields (invention, sports, academia etc.), several claims of refuting Aryan Supremacy were attributed to more prominent blacks such as former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson early in the twentieth century.  The refutation of Aryan supremacy can be added to Jesse Owens’ resume, and his is stronger, because he achieved his glory in full sight of the man who thought that being of white descent naturally meant that one was superior. A brief biography states that James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens born September the 12th, 1913 and sprinted away on March 31st, 1980 was an American track and field athlete and four-time Olympic gold medallist in the 1936 Berlin games. He specialised in the sprints and the long jump and was recognised in his lifetime as “perhaps the greatest and most famous athlete in track and field history”.  His achievement of setting three world records and tying another in less than an hour at the 1935 Big Ten track meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been called “the greatest 45 minutes ever in sport” and has never been equalled.

At the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, Owens won international fame with four gold medals: 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump, and 4 × 100 meter relay. He was the most successful athlete at the games and, as a Black man, was credited with “single-handedly crushing Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy”, although he “wasn’t invited to the White House to shake hands with the President, either.”  Why Roosevelt never invited a national hero to congratulate him on his achievements vexes my understanding to this day.
Owens was the youngest of ten children, three girls and seven boys, born to Henry Cleveland Owens (a sharecropper) and Mary Emma Fitzgerald in Oakville, Alabama. J.C., as he was called, was nine years old when the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for better opportunities, as part of the Great Migration, when 1.5 million African Americans left the segregated South. When his new teacher asked his name (to enter in her roll book), he said “J.C.”, but because of his strong Southern accent, she thought he said “Jesse”. The name stuck, and he was known as Jesse Owens for the rest of his life. As a boy, Owens took different jobs in his spare time: he delivered groceries, loaded freight cars and worked in a shoe repair shop while his father and older brother worked at a steel mill.

During this period, Owens realized that he had a passion for running. Throughout his life, Owens attributed the success of his athletic career to the encouragement of Charles Riley, his junior high track coach at Fair mount Junior High School. Since Owens worked in a shoe repair shop after school, Riley allowed him to practice before school instead.Owens married his childhood sweetheart Minnie Ruth Solomon (1915–2001), whom he met at Fair mount Junior High School in Cleveland when he was 15 and she was 13. They dated steadily through high school. Ruth gave birth to their first daughter, Gloria, in 1932. They married on July 5, 1935 and had two more daughters together: Marlene, born in 1939, and Beverly, born in 1940. They remained married until his death in 1980 (which marks this hero as a loyal individual).

The more than 400 years of black and other slavery that still go on to this day in the form of nepotism results in a larger part of the population being short-changed when it comes to their receiving the rewards due to them, and no matter the amount of effort they put into proving the point they still go on to be short-changed. It is said that just before the competitions, Jesse Owens was visited in the Olympic village by Adi Dassler, the founder of the Adidas athletic shoe company and brand. He persuaded Owens to wear GebrüderDassler Schuh fabric shoes, the first sponsorship for a male African American athlete. What his contribution got him is vague, all I know is he wore a pair of Adidas spikes when he took those four gold medals; why there is so little mention of his name in the company’s adverts is a sign of how the world rewards the heroes from the “under class”: with little acknowledgement and mention, unless there are rewards to gain from such a campaign.
Casey Aaron Nash from East Tennessee State University mentions that:

Jesse Owens was the star of the Berlin Olympics in 1936. His four gold medals in Hitler’s Germany, as an African American, had far reaching implications back in the United States.
Despite segregation and a social hierarchy that was an impasse to both black opportunity and achievement, Owens created a lasting legacy that drastically impacted race relations.
Owens as an Olympian in 1936 manufactured a brand of social capital that tied people together in commonality ­— as Americans.
As well, in both myth and deed, Owens has been traditionally credited with challenging Hitler’s beliefs of Aryan Supremacy. Yet, Owens was also a race pioneer, as his athletic feats were read in newspapers all over the country, and as a result, helped shift the consciousness of Southerners who were historically ignorant of black achievement.
He thus became a driver of ‘social capital’, which is an idea introduced and discussed at length by social theorist Robert Putnam who refers to social capital in much broader terms as the “connections between individuals.” To be specific:

Social capital is the social bond, the unifying agent, or the result of those connections between individuals that lends itself to fraternity and a common identity in societies.
This social capital, as opposed to physical capital (objects) and human capital (individual talents in relation to economic opportunity) is simply put, the galvanising adhesive in society.
It is created by a society when ideas are commonly shared by a network of individuals, underscoring a sense of camaraderie by confirmation.  Such capital can occur from events that range in scope from serious to trivial, a result of crises such as wars and deprivation… These bonds can be strengthened or weakened depending on the ebb and flow of social and cultural phenomena present at any given moment in time.  But at its base, it is the agreement upon the common denominator (consciously and unconsciously), if you will, in a collective identity. Furthermore, this collective identity enables collective solutions to collective problems.  It serves to install trust in systems, institutions, and individuals thus allowing progressive societies to “advance smoothly,” and subsequently create an awareness of how individual fates are inextricably linked to the greater whole.

Obtuse, lack of acknowledgement for the significance of the roles played by given individuals in our own societies results in our societies lagging behind, for the truth is that those who are not acknowledged will at the end of the day go elsewhere, where their contributions are honoured; and they leave behind gaps that cannot be filled: resulting in the collapse of the system or components of the system. In the eighty one years that have transpired since the Olympic Games in Berlin, many questions still unanswered as to the implications of his victories.  His four gold medals placed him in the upper echelon of Olympic athletes and pushed him into the spotlight of popular culture in America.  As an African American, the “world’s fastest man” was recognised in the segregated white world as even the deepest parts of the racist South carried news and photographs of his victories.  An analysis of his feats states that many sportswriters and historians alike have credited Owens for paving the way for Civil Rights, framing his victories in terms of overturning theories of race.  He was in essence a man for all seasons, because he ran for the right reasons: the call for all of humanity to unite as the multicoloured circles on the Olympic logo; for we are at the end of the day one humanity, one race.

Albert Speer wrote that:
Hitler “was highly annoyed by the series of triumphs by the marvellous coloured American runner, Jesse Owens. People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive, Hitler said with a shrug; their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games.”
In your dreams Hitler, the black people of the world have a role to play in the progress of the world, and they can run. Talent bears no race, no face, no class…it just is…talent. And it unites humanity as one race.

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