In the 20th century, AfricanAmericans had been struggling to get accepted in society since the Emancipation Proclamation deemed slavery illegal. Being unable to make a living through normal jobs due to workplace prejudices, many AfricanAmericans turned to sports to play and inspire them. At the time, there were also very few black role models in society, causing athletes to become role models and be the voice of AfricanAmericans. There was no better athlete to fill this role than Jesse Owens. Owens was able to cross social and philosophical boundaries as he rose from poverty to national fame after winning a record breaking four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The fact that he did this in a time where AfricanAmericans were considered inferior to whites in every way made his story more inspiring. Along with his success, his charm and personality attracted his fans and followers around the world to follow in his footsteps. Owens impacted the lives of many people around the world as he crossed social and philosophical borders and made himself the most important person in helping AfricanAmericans become fully integrated into society. “Jesse Owens: An American Life” by William J. Baker is a biography of Jesse Owens' life. It talks about how Owens, the tenth child of Alabama sharecroppers, rose from poverty to become one of the most influential AfricanAmerican athletes of all time. It tells the tale of his rise to fame after he won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and the many peaks and valleys in his life afterwards. While describing his very upanddown life, the book stresses that the one thing that remained constant was that Owens remained a polarizing figure to the end of his days. In the end, it explains how his life impacted and inspired the lives of many others. Owens had to overcome many social borders throughout his whole life to become the world renown man he became. Born on September 12, 1913 in Oakville,
Alabama, Owens had a rough childhood. He had many illnesses like pneumonia and had abnormal growths on legs and chests that had to be removed by his mother with a knife (Baker pg. 7). When Owens was 10, his family moved to Cleveland hoping for a better opportunity (Baker pg. 16). However, this was not the case as he lived in a ghetto that even KKK members steered away from (Baker pg. 18). Growing up in Alabama and Cleveland, Owens had to deal with racist attitudes from the beginning. Lucky for him, he went to an integrated junior high and high school that welcomed all ethnicities. It was during his junior high days that he met his mentor, Charles Riley. Riley, the school’s white track coach, was the first person to take Owens under his arm. Riley would often bring Owens breakfast and bring Owens home to eat with his family. Their relationship was warm and respectful, and it was from this relationship that Owens truly began to grow up into a man and learned to deal with people of all races (Baker pg. 22). When asked about Riley, Owens said, “He was the first white man I really knew, and without even trying, he proved to me beyond all proof that a white man could love a [black man]. He trained me to become a man as well as an athlete.” (Baker pg. 23) As a senior in high school, Owens finally burst into the national spotlight as he broke numerous world records. As one reporter put it, “He polarized fans not only with his amazing athletic ability, but with his demeanor; He worked quietly and hard without any showboating.” (Baker 31) With this attitude, it was hard for whites and blacks alike to hate him. However, when he reached college, it was a different story. Owens was forced to live in an offcampus apartment instead of a dorm because all the dorms at Ohio State were reserved for whites. When he got a job running an elevator, he was only allowed to run the freight elevator out of sight from ...
Bibliography: ● Baker, William J. Jesse Owens: An American Life. New York: Free, 1986. Print.
● Dyer, Kristian. "Inspirational Moments: Carl Lewis ' Meeting with Jesse
Owens."Yahoo Sports. N.p., 26 July 2012. Web. 27 Apr. 2014.
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