Go see “Race.” The critics apparently do not think it is the greatest movie in the history of movies, but the story of Jesse Owens is one of the greatest stories in the history of stories, so there. But be prepared. American race relations in the 1930s is not fun to watch, and then you encounter Nazi Germany. It is a tough, hard, heroic story well worth the price of admission, not to mention the attention of your heart.
I traveled to northern Alabama in June 2007 to speak at a church that had supported our church during Hurricane Katrina, and while there, noticed that the Jesse Owens Memorial Park & Museum was nearby. I had to go. Jesse, a grandson of slaves, was born into a family of sharecroppers in tiny Oakville, Alabama, and the museum grounds contains a replica of his childhood home. Mr. & Mrs. Owens had nine children in that tiny house, and the children had no beds. Eventually, the family relocated to Cleveland, Ohio, where life was bad, but better, and it was there that Jesse’s spectacular high school track and field performances catapulted him on to the world stage where he forever defied Hitler’s claim of Aryan supremacy.
This picture is my personal favorite from the museum (and my favorite scene in the movie):
The friendship that formed between blond-haired, blue-eyed Luz Long from Nazi Germany and African-American, Jesse Owens, from the United States in the long jump competition at the Olympic Games stands as a testament of hope for the world.
An article on ESPN.com shared the following quote from Owens: “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler. You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace. The sad part of the story is I never saw Long again. He was killed in World War II.”
Eighty years after the 1936 Olympic Games, the world sure seems to remain a mess. But there is hope. There is always hope. And it begins when people defy social expectations and form the most unlikely friendships.