In New York, Owens had to use a service elevator to reach the reception in his honor.
In New York, Owens had to use a service elevator to reach the reception in his honor (Photo: Reproduction)

From atop a special rostrum, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was celebrating German victories at the Berlin Olympics in an almost hysterical way. It was August 1936. In order to avoid an international boycott, in the previous months he had ordered a housecleaning that removed all racist references to the regime from public spaces. He was just a game for the audience.

In fact, Hitler planned to accompany the consecration of his regime in the Olympic stadium in Berlin. Each German victory brought him closer to the goal. Until the American Jesse Owens appeared, the black sprinter who won four gold medals in those Games. Applauded at the stadium, Owens soon became an international symbol of the fight against racism.

From then on, he also lived with the legend that Hitler would have refused to congratulate him on his victory. In fact, the Nazi leader had already stopped congratulating the athletes when Owen took off on his way to Olympic consecration. Hitler changed his attitude shortly before another black athlete, American Cornelius Johnson, won gold in the high jump.

The fact that he became a global symbol of the fight against racism did not soften the daily life of Owens in the United States. To attend a reception in his own honor at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, he had to take the service elevator, as he tells us in his autobiography “The Jesse Owens Story”, remembering that, in those days, blacks could not use social elevators.

"When I came back to my country, with all those stories about Hitler, I couldn't ride in the front of the bus, I had to go to the back," Owens wrote. "I wasn't invited to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn't invited to greet the president at the White House either," he added, referring to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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