A Personal Defeat of Fascism

In what became the lead-up to World War II, Adolf Hitler had secured the rights to the 1936 Olympics to be held in Berlin. He had intended that the Olympics would showcase the superiority of the German people. But Hitler’s policies of bigotry and fascism nearly derailed the games from ever taking place.

The American team agreed to compete when it was assured that its Black and Jewish athletes would be treated fairly. One athlete was of particular focus. Jesse Owens, an African American athlete was perhaps America’s best-known athlete. In just one day in 1935, he had set or tied four world records. Jesse Owens had decided to compete in the Olympics, although there were many people who tried to discourage him from competing.

Jesse Owens’ first Olympic event was the 100-meter race, which he won. His teammate, Ralph Metcalfe, another African American, finished second. Adolf Hitler left the stadium prior to the medals ceremony and refused to shake the hand of the Gold Medalist, as he promised.

In the second event, Jesse Owens was due to compete in the long jump against Luz Long, perhaps Germany’s leading athlete. He was the holder of the European record and a formidable opponent for Jesse Owens. During the preliminaries, Jesse Owens failed on his first two attempts but qualified on his final attempt.

In the finals, Luz Long broke the Olympic record only to have Jesse Owens immediately break that record and win the Gold Medal. Again, Adolf Hitler was shamed. But the real story came minutes after the race when Luz and Jesse walked arm and arm to the dressing room to great cheers from the spectators.

Jesse Owens went on to win a third Gold Medal in the 200-meter race. To embarrass Hitler even further, America’s two Jewish participants in the 4×100-meter relay race were not allowed to run. They were replaced by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, who had never competed in a relay race. Jesse Owens won his 4th Gold Medal, a record at the time.

Adolf Hitler’s vision of the 1936 Olympics being a showcase for fascism was defeated by Jesse Owens. The spectators chanted his name as if he were one of them, and not an inferior race as Hitler had tried portraying those of African heritage.

Luz Long and Jesse Owens remained friends until World War II erupted. Luz was injured in a battle in Italy and died four days later in a British military hospital. After the war was over, Jesse Owens returned to Germany to meet with Luz’s son.

 Just imagine how personal relationships can defeat fascism. Those who espouse fascist beliefs do so by demonizing others. What the German spectators saw in the Olympic stadium in 1936 was not only a great athletic display, but a refutation of the big lie perpetrated by Adolf Hitler and other Nazi leaders.

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“Tell him about his father and what times were like when we were not separated by war.” – Luz Long in a letter to Jesse Owens prior to him being sent into battle

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