The museum tells the story of Jesse Owens who won the 1936 Olympic Gold in Nazi Germany

Jesse Owens Museum in Oakville, Alabama

The story of Jesse Owens is both difficult and easy to sum up. His greatest moment was surely in 1936 when the Olympic Games were held in Berlin under the watchful eye of Adolf Hitler.

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Hitler's vision of the perfect racial group was that of pure Aryan stock. They were perceived to be the smartest, fastest, and superior race according to any and all criteria. Hitler's goal was to prove that to the world and was certain the Olympic Games would cement his vision, that his athletes would show the world their superiority. So, when Jesse Owens, poor black man from rural Alabama blew by the competition to win gold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump, and 400 meter relays he humbled Hitler's vision and the tyrant himself. Owens' actions made an eloquent statement about hard work, effort, and ability independent of racial heritage.

The Jesse Owens Museum in Oakville, Alabama focuses on Owens' beginnings in a tiny sharecropper's cabin and his amazing feats of physical prowess. The museum includes a replica of the tiny cabin, theater, timeline of Owens life, a wonderful statue of Owens surrounded by the Olympic rings, picnic area, long jump pit and sports fields.

Early Beginnings

Owens was small and sickly, the 10th child of Henry and Emma Owens, and went to school in a one-room shack which doubled as the Sunday church. He recalls that despite poor health, I always loved running. I wasn't very good at it, but I loved it, because it was something you could do all by yourself, and under your own power. You could go any direction, as fast or as slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs. And by high school it was evident that Jesse Owens was a world-class athlete, as he won medals, championships and broke records, culminating in his slot on the 1936 Olympic team.
 The museum tells the story of Jesse Owens who won the 1936 Olympic Gold in Nazi Germany

It's certainly hard to top that moment and Owens' life after that clearly had high points and low points but through it all, there was in Owens a hard-driving survivor who never stopped running and trying and working.

The museum is a bit out-of-the-way but residents of Oakville, some of them related to Owens, joined together to buy the 17.5-acre tract, then deeded it to the county. Planning and park development was carried out by the Auburn University and Lawrence County Extension Offices.

Go visit. Pay your respects to an incredible man and an Alabama wonder.

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Neala McCarten

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: November 27, 2016

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