Jesse Owens Races to Theaters

On March 12, the Parents of African American Students (PAAS) hosted a private showing of the recently released movie “Race” depicting the triumphs of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin and his struggle against racism in the United States. The private showing had a turnout of a wide array of parents, students and teachers alike, who came out to learn about a pivotal individual in U.S. history and to support the class of 2016.

“I didn’t know too much about Jesse Owens and wanted to learn a little bit more,” said senior David Lee.

Owens’ admittance to the University of Ohio and his career on the track team attracted special attention within an environment of extreme bigotry and racism. However, the film shows that some individuals still maintained the unbiased views that helped pave the way for integration.

Larry Snyder, coach of the University of Chicago, took Owens to his first collegiate track meet where he set three world records in broad jump, the one hundred meter and hurdles. The majority of the crowd at the meet was composed of white spectators who began using slurs to throw Owens off of his stride. This displays the hypocrisy in America at the time.

America’s rich and powerful were chastising Germany’s horrible policies, saying their prejudiced views would not be tolerated by a nation that stands for freedom. But racism was still deeply rooted in the daily culture of the U.S.

After proving to the nation that race did not dictate athleticism, Owens joined the U.S. Olympic team and competed in the highly controversial 1936 Berlin Olympics in which racial injustices played as much of a role as the sporting events.

The racial tension at the event became very clear when the Nazi hierarchy went against tradition and refused to recognize any Jewish or colored people’s accomplishments at the games. In spite of this, Owens won four medals, which at the time was a record, and set a multitude of world records that would stand for 23 years.

“It was weirdly true how (the movie) compared the hate which the Nazis had toward most minorities and the racism which was all over the place in the USA,” said senior Cydnee Jordan.

Upon returning to the U.S., Owens was greeted as a hero, and a gala was held in his honor. But even at the event that heralded him as a great athlete, Owens had to enter through the service entrance, indicating the injustices inherent in the American system.

As the audience left in quiet contemplation of the hypocrisy of the final scene, the message of Owens’ story is that the same hatred existed across all aspects of the world. The audience learned an important lesson: the prejudices that were present then caused many of the social issues that continue to plague our country today. But the film also hopes to convey a positive message by showing viewers how to overcome hate and become stronger in the face of it.

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