Jesse Owens: Blackthink: My Life as Black Man and White Man

(1970)

About the Author

Jesse Owens, born on September 12, 1913, was the last of ten surviving children of a sharecropper family in Oakville, Alabama. Like most African American sharecroppers in the South at this time, the family struggled to make a living and was exploited by their white landlord. An added concern for Owens’s parents was that he was a sickly child who came close to death on a number of occasions. Seeking to escape from poverty and to find more healthy living conditions for Jesse, the family moved north to Cleveland in the early 1920s. In doing so they became part of what is called the Great Migration of some 1.25 million African Americans who left the South in the period from 1910 to 1930 looking for a better life in the cities of the North.

In Cleveland, Owens’s health improved. Attending Fairmount Junior High School, he demonstrated promise on the athletics track, attracting the attention of the sports coach Charles Riley, who became a mentor and father figure to...

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Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics (Library of Congress)

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