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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Jesse Owens

Airs Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Trace the story of Jesse Owens’ (pictured) remarkable victories in the face of Nazi racism during the 1936 Olympics.

On April 2, 1936, when the 22-year-old son of a sharecropper entered the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, he was, he later remembered, barely able to control his anger.

Jesse Owens training at Ohio State University, 1935.
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Above: Jesse Owens training at Ohio State University, 1935.

Jesse Owens, his wife Ruth Owens, and the president of Ohio State University at homecoming, 1936.
Enlarge this image

Above: Jesse Owens, his wife Ruth Owens, and the president of Ohio State University at homecoming, 1936.

“I was angry because of the insults that Hitler and the other German leaders had hurled at me and my Negro teammates on the Olympic squad.” The young athlete would channel his raw emotions into some of the most remarkable achievements in the history of athletics, winning four gold medals.

To tell the story of Jesse Owens’ remarkable victories in the face of Nazi racism, this film begins in the poor Cleveland neighborhood where the young athlete grew up; details his early career; describes Adolf Hitler’s outsized ambitions for the 1936 Olympics; explores the movement in Western democracies to boycott the event; and explains the pressures on Owens to attend.

The film also reveals the unlikely relationship Owens struck up at the games with his German rival Carl “Luz” Long and shows, that in the end, despite his success in Germany, Owens struggled to find a place for himself in a United States that was still wrestling to overcome its own deeply entrenched racism.

The story of the 22-year-old son of a sharecropper who triumphed over adversity to become a hero and world champion, "Jesse Owens" is also about the elusive, fleeting quality of fame and the way Americans idolize athletes when they suit our purpose, and forget them once they don't.

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Video

Preview: American Experience: Jesse Owens

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Watch Jesse Owens Preview on PBS. See more from American Experience.

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Watch Jesse Owens, Chapter 1 on PBS. See more from American Experience.

Above: The most famous athlete of his time, his stunning triumph at the 1936 Olympic Games captivated the world even as it infuriated the Nazis. Despite the racial slurs he endured, Jesse Owens' grace and athleticism rallied crowds across the globe.