The seventh child of Henry and Emma Alexander Owens was named James Cleveland when he was born in Alabama in 1913. "J.C.", as he was called, was nine when the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where his new schoolteacher gave him the name that was to become known around the world. The teacher was told "J.C." when she asked his name to enter in her roll book, but she thought he said "Jesse". And Jesse Owens was the name he used for the rest of his life.
Owens had a sensational high school track career and was being sought by dozens of colleges by the time he reached his senior year.
His athletic career began in 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio where he set new world records for Junior High Schools by jumping 6.0 feet in the high jump, and 22 feet 11 3/4 inches in the broad jump. During his high school days, he won all of the major track events, including the state championship for three consecutive years. At the National Interscholastic meet in Chicago, during his senior year, he set a new world record for high schools by running the 100 yard dash in 9.4 seconds to tie the accepted world record, and he created a new high school world record in the 220 yard dash by running the distance in 20.7 seconds. A week earlier he had set a new world record in the broad jump by jumping 24 feet 11 3/4 inches
.Owens chose the Ohio State University over all of the colleges pursuing him, even though OSU had no track scholarships to offer at the time. He supported himself and his young wife, Ruth, with a variety of jobs - as a night elevator operator and a waiter, by pumping gas and working in the library stacks, and through a stint as a page in the Ohio Statehouse, all of this in between practice and record setting on the field in intercollegiate competition.
In 1936 Jesse Owens stood on the center tier of the awards platform of the Berlin Games to accept his fourth Olympic gold medal. Names and faces of great athletes flash on and then off the sports panorama, but though others have broken Jesse Owens' records and accumulated gold medals, he is the best remembered of all the Olympic athletes. Why? Because he, son of a sharecropper and grandson of a slave, achieved what no Olympian before him had accomplished; he not only discredited a heinous dictator, Adolph Hitler, but he affirmed that individual excellence, rather than race or national origin, distinguishes one man from another.
Owens proved in Berlin and thereafter that he was a dreamer who could
make the dreams of others come true, a speaker who could make the world
listen and a man who held out hope to millions of young people. Throughout
his life, he worked with youths, sharing of himself and the little material
wealth that he had. In this way, Jesse Owens was equally the champion
on the playground of the poorest neighborhoods that he was on the oval
of the Olympic games.
The Jesse Owens Foundation