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Jesse Owens

Who Was Jesse Owens?

Jesse Owens, the son of sharecroppers and grandson of slaves, was the first person to win four gold medals in track and field in a modern Olympic Games. In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Owens won gold in the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and the long jump. Then, his relay team won the 400-meter relay. Jesse Owens was an Olympic superstar and is considered one of the best athletes of the 20th century.

Dates: September 12, 1913 - March 31, 1980

Also Known As: James Cleveland Owens (born as), J.C., The Buckeye Bullet

Famous Quote: The battles that count arent for gold medals. The struggles within yourself -- the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us -- thats where its at.

Family and Childhood

James Cleveland Owens was born on September 12, 1913, in Oakville, Alabama as the tenth child of Henry and Mary Emma Owens. James Owens, called “J.C.” by his family, was the grandson of slaves and the son of a sharecropper. The Owens family, like most sharecroppers, were very poor -- living in a dilapidated shanty and barely subsisting.

J.C., the youngest of his family, was a sickly child, suffering from serious bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia throughout his childhood. His family, too poor to call a doctor, often worried that he wouldn’t survive.

J.C., however, wasn’t always sick. When he felt good enough, he would walk the nine miles, each way, to his one-room school in the Baptist Church to be taught by a volunteer teacher.

Despite this, J.C.’s early education was severely lacking, which was something he could never quite overcome.

J.C.’s parents wanted better for him and his siblings and so one day, Henry Owens sold his only mule and all his farm tools to his landlord. It was 1922 -- time to move to Cleveland, Ohio.

The Owens family became part of the Great Migration, a huge exodus of over six million African Americans who moved from the rural South to the cities of the North from 1916 to 1970.

Like others, the Owens family was looking for better jobs and a better life in the

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