I graduated from high school in 1942. The country was at war and it was a very different time with regards to race relations and the inclusion of African Americans in mainstream US society as they were excluded from everything and treated as second class citizens. This is why it was such a big deal for our high school track coach to invite Olympic great Jesse Owens to come to the school to speak with the track team.
True, black sports heroes were exceptions to that discrimination on some levels, but it was still a white world. My father died when I was three and I was sent to live at Girard College, a school for fatherless boys. It was a blessing, as the school had been endowed almost 100 years before by Stephen Girard, one of America’s first millionaires, and also fatherless. He left the bulk of his enormous estate to fund the school and I received an amazing education and experience my mother could not have provided alone during the depression.
My teachers and my coaches were my role models and this track coach, I believe his name was Mr. Dunleavy (after all it has been more than sixty years) was a very important influence on me. Jesse Owens is an American sports legend, who gained international fame as a US representative to the controversial 1936 Olympics in Berlin Germany. The Olympics, presided over by Germany’s leader at the time, Adolf Hitler. In what Hitler planned as a showcase for his Aryan athletes, Jesse Owens, an African American runner, sounded defeated every German (and every other competitor) in every race he entered.
He came and spoke to the track team on a casual basis, it was very exciting and I even got a photo with him, which I am still trying to find after all these years. Then he spoke to the entire student body. It was exciting to have some one on one time with this hero and as an all white school, it was a good lesson in all men being equal.
*Note: This article was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Sign up here to start publishing your own sports content.