September 12, 2020

A Birthday Tribute to Jesse Owens


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On September 12, 1913, James (Jesse) Cleveland Owens was born.

In honor of his birthday, let’s take a look back at his career and what made him a pioneering legend.

For a full Jesse Owens biography, visit The Ohio State University Libraries’ feature at



Early Life


On September 12, 1913, Mary Emma Owens gives birth to James Cleveland Owens in Oakville, Alabama.


The Owens family moves to Cleveland, Ohio. James Cleveland Owens enrolls in Bolton Elementary School where he becomes known as “Jesse” Owens.


Owens sets his first records in the high jump and long jump at Fairmount Junior High School under coach and life-long mentor, Charles Riley.

At Ohio State


Owens enrolls at The Ohio State University.


Owens sets world records in the 220-yard dash, 220-yard low hurdles and the long jump in less than one hour at the Big Ten Finals in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


Owens finishes his last quarter at Ohio State before the Olympics.

At the 1936 Olympics

Owens participates in the Olympic tryout finals in New York, winning all three of his events (100m, 200m, and long jump).

Owens wins four gold medals in the Olympic Games. He sets new world records in the 200-meter race (20.7 seconds), long jump (26 feet, 5 ¼ inches), and 400-meter relay (39.8 seconds), while tying the world record for 100 meter dash (10.3 seconds).

Post-Racing Career


Owens is appointed the Director of National Fitness by the U.S. Office of Civilian Defense.


Ford Motor Co. hires Owens as Assistant Personnel Director of African-American workers. He is then promoted to director, then later works in public relations.


The Associated Press names Owens the greatest track athlete of the past half-century.


Owens becomes the training and running coach during spring training for the New York Mets baseball team.


Ohio State awards Owens with an honorary doctorate of athletic arts “for his unparalleled skill and ability” as an athlete and for “his personification of sportsmanship ideals.”


Owens dies of lung cancer at the age of 66.

Jesse Owens’ Legacy


The Jesse Owens Memorial Plaza is dedicated outside of Ohio Stadium.


Jesse Owens Memorial Park is dedicated in Oakville, Alabama.


Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium is completed, serving as the home venue for Buckeye soccer, track and field and lacrosse events throughout the year.


At a hearing held at Ohio State, state lawmakers hear testimony on why Owens should be chosen for a statue to be placed in the Nation Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.


Ohio Governor John Kasich and the Owens family help dedicate Jesse Owens State Park and Wildlife Area.

Some images and content courtesy of The Ohio State University Libraries.