There have been many truly memorable moments in Black history when the gross injustice of racial discrimination has been dramatically highlighted. The 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany is perhaps one of the most dramatic because of what the madman wanted to happen and what actually happened.

Hitler was happy to host the Olympic Games because he felt it was a chance to demonstrate one of his fundamental philosophical concepts, which was the superiority of the Aryan race. Or to put it more bluntly, Hitler wanted to show the superiority of the white man on the Olympic fields. Looking back at his arrogance and knowing what we do today, you wonder how he could have been so deeply wrong about anything. But if he’d never questioned that theory, he should have seriously reconsidered it after the Berlin Olympics.

Once again, it was a man whose name in black history became one of great pride that paved the way for justice and equality. That man was Jessie Owens, who came to these Olympics not to make a racial statement or launch a movement, but to do his best and show his pride as a black man, as an American and as an athlete. And that pride showed when he won four gold metals and crushed to dust Hitler’s hopes of an Aryan adventure on the black man.

Hitler’s response was infantile and nauseating as he left the stadium while Owens won event after event, then refused to shake Jessie’s hand when it came time to award the metals. But there’s another side to this story that sheds another light on where we were in black history at that time. And that is the experience Jesse Owens had in Germany with the other athletes and German citizens who were warm and welcoming to him and treated him like the sporting hero he was because of his great achievements.

History tells us that during the long jump competition, Jesse’s German competitor, Lutz Long, gave him advice and was friendly throughout. As he continued to demonstrate his remarkable athletic ability, the German citizens, numbering 110,000, cheered him enthusiastically and eagerly asked for his autograph as he stood in the street after the competition. In fact, Owens enjoyed the equality that is common among athletes as he traveled with his fellow white athletes, ate with them and stayed in the same accommodation as them, something that would have been out of the question in America at the time.

There are many lessons we can learn from Jesse’s experience beyond this evidence that Hitler’s ideas of Aryan supremacy were profoundly wrong and offensive to all humanity, not just to victims of discrimination. We see that even in a society that became characterized as racist, such as Germany in the 1930s, the people, the ordinary people of Germany had no room in their hearts for such racism imposed on them by their leaders. This can be a source of inspiration and hope for us all, and an encouragement not to prejudge a people we might even perceive as racist, because often the good people, the ordinary people will have nothing to do with such evil.

And we can celebrate this great victory in a very difficult circumstance in which it was not speeches that proved that race, color or creed do not make a man superior. Rather, it is the talent, integrity and hard work of each individual that shows the quality that comes from within. Jesse Owens demonstrated this even to the likes of Adolph Hitler. And we have the opportunity to demonstrate this same principle every day in our daily lives.

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