OAKVILLE, Ala. - In just two weeks, a movie honoring the life of Jesse Owens opens world-wide, showing the struggles and impact the record-setting Olympian made on the world.
Tucked away in Oakville, Ala. is a treasure that a lot of people are not aware of. It’s a museum for the most famous Olympian of all time.
“He used to pick cotton up here on this hill where the statue is, where the museum is,” said James Pinion, Museum Director.
James Cleveland Owens, better known as Jesse, would have his start here in the South as one of seven children of sharecroppers. Jesse was born sickly and unable to walk for the first few years. "He had health problems. He was a scrawny individual with boils on his legs. And his mother would have to boil a knife and cut them out," said Pinion.
By the age of 6, he was finally able to walk to school with his siblings, but walking wasn't enough. He wanted to run. "He liked doing it because it was something he could do by himself," said Pinion.
His sickly legs became stronger, and he began to run longer and faster, breaking multiple world records in track in high school and landing him a spot on Ohio State University's team.
He continued to impress coaches, breaking records with speed. "[His Coach] timed him one time and he thought his watch was broke because he ran so fast. So he made him do it again to check," said Pinion.
In 1936 he went on to the Berlin Olympics, competing in front of Nazi Germany leader Adolf Hitler, who was using the games to push his own agenda of Aryan supremacy. "He was going to use the Olympics to prove his theory. He had some good athletes and wanted to make a clean sweep and show the world that Berlin had the answers to the race issue," said Pinion.
Owens proved the theory obsolete, winning four gold medals and setting three new world records. "Watch the horses and see how they run, they just glide, they're not straining and when you watch Jesse running, that's the way he runs," said Pinion.
His victories proved a slap in the face to Hitler. Owens' fans say you shouldn’t underestimate his role in history.
Jesse Owens Memorial Park is open seven days a week.
The movie "Race" opens in theaters February 19.