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Issue Date: July 2012


1936

Landmark moments from our past
Justin Williams
williams@clevelandmagazine.com

Thousands of Clevelanders flooded the city's streets on Aug. 25, welcoming home local hero Jesse Owens from the 1936 Summer Olympics. Cheers resounded all along the 13-mile parade route, but they peaked along Central Avenue, the main street of Cleveland's African-American neighborhood. Onlookers filled up Central's sidewalks, windows and rooftops to catch a glimpse of Owens, perched on the backseat of a brand-new, roll-top Lincoln.

The parade culminated at Public Hall, where Owens spoke.

"One can't go running forever," he told the thousands gathered there. "I don't want to be remembered for my athletic ability, but as a man himself, as a citizen of Cleveland."

Owens, 22, was born in Alabama before moving to Cleveland as a boy. He claimed four gold medals in track and field events at the Berlin Olympics, leading a triumph of sorts over Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany's racism.

Nevertheless, there is some myth to the legend. That famous story of Hitler snubbing Owens at the games? False. It was African-American Cornelius Johnson whom Hitler snubbed, a day before Owens won his first event. After that, Hitler refrained from meeting with any winners. The press attached the story to Owens, who eventually gave up on correcting the mistake.


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