Owens gave one of his four Olympic gold medals to dancer and movie star Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, another supremely talented African-American whose career was hemmed in by limited roles for Black men, Imler said. Robinson befriended Owens after the athlete return from the Olympics.
“They formed a friendship and also a professional relationship. Bojangles helped Owens get work in the entertainment field,” Imler said. “Owens gave him this medal out of gratitude and as a token of their friendship.”
Owens worked for a short time as a band leader but eventually returned to his hometown of Cleveland where he worked for the parks department and eventually found his way into public speaking, his daughter said.
“The Black community revered him for what he had accomplished,” she said. “Had it been an even playing field, my father and Bojangles would have been super-stars.”
The medal comes from the estate of Robinson’s widow. The Robinson family declined to comment but Imler said they plan to use the proceeds to pay college tuition and contribute to charity.
SCP Auctions confirmed that the medal is genuine. The whereabouts of the other three original gold medals is unknown.
“We just hope that it’s purchased by an institution where the public could have access to it, a museum or something like that,” his daughter said.
The auction closes on Dec. 7.