Absolutely Alabama: Jesse Owens Museum

Absolutely Alabama: Jesse Owens Museum

OAKVILLE, AL (WXTX) - He is still widely regarded as the most famous Olympic athlete in history.

Each year visitors from around the world make their way to the community of Oakville in southeastern Lawrence County.

That's where they learn the life story of a man who some say helped win a world war through his athletic achievements. We say Jesse Owens is Absolutely Alabama.

"Jesse Owens' father was a sharecropper and he worked for the Cannon family," said Joyce Cole from the Jesse Owens Museum. "They were extremely poor. They had just they had one bed in their house. So they only had one real possession that was of any value which was that was their mule so they sold their mule, got the money for train tickets and moved their family to Cleveland but for the first nine years of Jesse's life they lived here."

In life and in death Jesse Owens was surrounded by controversy and war and finally victory. He rose above it all, aspiring to greatness in an effort which he admitted in his own words came hard for him:

"I always loved running," Owens once said. "I was never very good at it but I loved it."

In Ohio, Jesse Owens honed what he called his God-given ability and by 1936 he made the Olympic team representing the United States in the Berlin Olympics, which Hitler planned as a showcase for Aryan supremacy. Jesse Owens exploded that myth right before the Fuehrer's eyes.

"One guy said I think he helped, helped defeat Hitler. It done some thin to him," said James Pinion, who helped start the museum. "And you'n see on the on the movie that when Owens won the 100 boy you'n tell it really, they showed Hitler and you'n tell it really bothered him."

Owens won gold in the 100, the 200, the relay and the broad jump.  It was once again the Olympics which brought everyone's attention to the name. James Pinion approached the head of the Olympic committee to re-route the torch run from Huntsville to Birmingham on the way to Atlanta through the Oakville Olympian's hometown.

"And I said if you can re-route that thing 'bout 40 miles to come through where he's born and you can go back on the Interstate, it would be I think it'd be a fitting thing," Pinion explained. "After two weeks he wrote a letter and said the committee has decided to let the torch come through Oakville."

The simple greatness of Jesse Owens had won the day, just as it had in Berlin.

Today the museum honoring the native son, manned solely by volunteers, still survives on donations and draws visitors from around the world.

"And when they get here they're very impressed," Cole said. "They find a State- Of-The-Art Museum in the middle of what used to be a cotton field, probably, or a pasture."

In the end Jesse Owens' life can still be found in the words of the man himself.

Today Jesse Owens, a man with a God-given ability, still has youngsters watching him and he stands way more than 10 feet tall, and he's still Absolutely Alabama.

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