Jesse Owens, a record-breaking Olympic sprinter and the best athlete of his time, spent much of his life struggling with issues of race. Unlike other athletes of his era, Owens’ day-to-day life was defined—and restricted—by his color. He suffered humiliating treatment even as he was revered as the most successful athlete of the day, winning four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics during Hitler’s Germany. But the racism he experienced in a country on the brink of ethnic cleansing was hardly worse than what he faced back home in the United States.
For years after his athletic career winded down, Owens endured a personal struggle, leading him to prize wealth over principles as he criticized Civil Rights leaders of the late 60s. In the decade before his death, his philosophy on race relations progressed, and he finally advocated the Civil Rights Movement.