LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. (AP) — Amid the jerseys and baseball bats held in a secure room at SCP Auctions, there’s a piece of sports memorabilia that speaks to much more than athletic prowess: an Olympic medal won by track star Jesse Owens at the 1936 Games in Berlin.
The medal — being auctioned online — recalls both the Nazi propaganda myths that Owens busted with his world record-setting 100-yard dash, and the American segregation that he came home to when he returned to the U.S. after the Games, which Adolf Hitler had orchestrated to showcase his ideas of Aryan supremacism.
“Almost singlehandedly, Owens obliterated Hitler’s plans,” SCP Auctions partner Dan Imler said. “You’ve got an African American, son of a sharecropper, grandson of slaves who overcame these incredible circumstances and delivered a performance for the ages.”
Owens won gold in the 100- and 200-meters, the 400 relay and the long jump. But when he returned from the Berlin Games, he struggled to provide for his family.
His job options were limited by segregation and because he decided to return home instead of going on tour with the U.S. Olympic Team, he was stripped of his amateur athletic status.
“When they came back, the U.S. was just as it was when he left — segregated. Even though he came back an Olympic hero, he wasn’t offered opportunities that Olympic heroes of today are offered,” said his daughter, Marlene Owens Rankin, 74, of Chicago. “We lived well, a middle class life. We didn’t want for much. But like many Black men of that era, he struggled to provide for his family.”