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Olympic Star Jesse Owens was a Clevelander

Jesse Owens in 1936 Olympics
Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

Olympic star Jesse Owens was raised in Cleveland. The son of a sharecropper and grandson of a slave moved to Cleveland from Alabama when he was nine years old. The track and field athlete and four-time Olympic gold medalist was recognized in his lifetime as one of the greatest and most famous athletes in track and field history. But, he had humble beginnings here.

Owens was the youngest of ten children, three girls and seven boys, born to Henry Cleveland Owens and Mary Emma Fitzgerald. He was born James Cleveland Owens but the story has it when a teacher asked him his name he said J.C. She thought he said Jesse and he was known as Jesse for the rest of his life.

Owens first came to national attention when he was a student of East Technical High School. He tied the world record of 9.4 seconds in the 100-yard dash and long-jumped 24 feet 9 1⁄2 inches at the 1933 National High School Championship in Chicago.

In 1936, Owens arrived in Berlin to compete for the United States in the Summer Olympics. Adolf Hitler was using the games to show the world Nazi propaganda that promoted concepts of Aryan racial superiority and depicted ethnic Africans as inferior. Owens countered that by winning four gold medals.

On the Jesse Owens website it says he traveled widely in his post-Olympic days. He was an inspirational speaker for youth groups, professional organizations, civic meetings, sports banquets, PTAs, church organizations, brotherhood and black history programs, as well as high school and college commencements. He was also a public relations representative and consultant to many corporations, including Atlantic Richfield, Ford and the United States Olympic Committee.

Owens died of lung cancer on March 31, 1980 with his wife whom he met at a Cleveland middle school and his daughters by his side.