Recently the Gompers Local School Council voted to change a local Chicago high school’s name to honor the late great Jesse Owens. The change came after the original Jesse Owens Community Academy was closed and combined with the Gompers Elementary School. Gompers was performing at a higher rate academically so more funds went into the school’s improvement. However, the fight to change the name went as far as Owens’ own daughters, who protested against the school’s closing for months.
Jesse Owens was the most decorated Olympic athlete in the 1930’s Berlin Olympics. He was the first American track & field athlete to win four gold medals in one Olympiad. Born James Cleveland Owens in Alabama in 1913, Owens enrolled in school and through an error in his teacher’s attendance records, he was mistakenly written in as Jesse (a misprint of J.C., his initials). He was forever recorded as Jesse Owens. Jesse Owens began setting track and field records in junior high. By high school, he was meeting and breaking world records in the high jump, including the broad jump, when he accomplished 24 feet 11 3/4 inches.
Owens worked hard to get through college at Ohio State University. He worked several jobs through practice to support he and his wife. At the Big Ten championships in 1935, Owens set three new world records. By the time he got to the Berlin Olympics, Owens had set a new standard in track & field, dispelling Adolf Hitler’s theory that the Aryan race was the master of all sports.
It was noted later that Owens hadn’t been acknowledged by President Roosevelt or invited to the White House. He was finally recognized by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955.
Jesse Owens died of complications from lung cancer on March 31, 1980.