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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Jesse Owens

Stream or tune in Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Trace the story of Jesse Owens’ (pictured) remarkable victories in the face o...

Credit: Courtesy of WGBH

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

Trace the story of Jesse Owens’ 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.

“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.

Preview: AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Jesse Owens

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. But when the four-time Olympic gold medalist returned home, he could not even ride in the front of a bus.

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.

Bonus Video: AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Jesse Owens: Chapter One

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.

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.

A Hero's Welcome?

After victories at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Jesse Owens returned to a segregated America.

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.

The Track: A Great Equalizer?

Jesse Owens' success on the track didn't translate to fair treatment off the track.

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Photo credit: Courtesy of Library of Congress

Jesse Owens at start of record-breaking 200-meter race, 1936.

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