Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

3 August 1936

In this photo taken on August 3, 1936, Jesse Owens wins the 100m sprint at the Summer Olympics in Berlin.

The day before, August 2, the first day of competition at the 1936 games, Germany took its first gold in the shot put—its first in the modern games. Hitler called the victor Hans Woellke to his stand and shook his hand. He called other white medalists—Finnish gold medalists from the 10,000-meter run—and shook their hands, too. But then it was America’s turn. Cornelius Johnson and Dave Albritton, two African Americans, took first and second place in the high jump. They paced toward Hitler’s box, but by the time they arrived, Hitler had departed.

That same day, Owens had already set his first world record of the game in a trial heat. Though Hitler would not congratulate any black victors, the crowds felt differently and cheered on the fastest man at the games.

On August 3, Owens tied the world record at the 100-meter dash.

On August 4, he set the record for the 200-meter heat.

Later that afternoon, he won another 200-meter heat.

That same day, at the long jump he made the first 26-foot jump in Olympic history. Then he broke his own record and jumped even further. At the medal ceremony he stood at the top flanked by a German and a Japanese athlete.

On August 5, he took the gold medal at the 200-meter finals, breaking another world record. Hitler had had enough and stormed out of the stadium.

Owens took his fourth and final medal on the final day of track and field at the 400-meter relay. Of the 12 Olympic gold medals that the United States took home, six of them were earned by African Americans.

Decades after his return to American, President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared Owens an Ambassador to Sports. By 1955, he was a Goodwill Ambassador who traveled the world for the State Department. In 1976 Gerald Ford awarded Owens the highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, in a White House ceremony.

Original caption: Photograph of Olympian Jesse Owens

Text excerpted from http://blogs.archives.gov/prologue/?p=1676