Update: The online auction of Jesse Owens’ gold medals brought in almost $1.47 million, the highest price ever for a piece from the Olympics. Corporate investor and co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team, Ron Burkle, made the purchase is believed to have plans to put the medals out to show for educational purposes, TheGrio reports.
The estate of Owens’ late widow, Elaine Plaines-Robinson, put the medals up for auction. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Jesse Owens Foundation. Sources say another portion will pay for college tuition.
The auction had more than 1,000 pieces of sports memorabilia and brought in $4.5 million.
If you collect black memorabilia — or are just an admirer of Olympic icon Jesse Owens — you still have a few days left to bid on his historic Olympic medal. The medal, on sale through SCP Auctions, ends December 7.
There are various sports memorabilia also being auctioned off, but Owens’ medal is perhaps the most significant. It holds a major place in not only Olympic history but also in the history of race relations and the Civil Rights movement.
Track star Owens won the medal at the 1936 Games in Berlin amid much controversy. At the time Berlin was part of Nazi Germany. That year Adolf Hitler sought to use the Games to showcase his ideas of Aryan supremacy. Owens busted the Nazi propaganda myths about blacks with his world record-setting 100-yard dash and made strides for the Civil Rights movement back home.
“Almost singlehandedly, Owens obliterated Hitler’s plans,” SCP Auctions partner Dan Imler tells The Huffington Post. “You’ve got an African American, son of a sharecropper, grandson of slaves who overcame these incredible circumstances and delivered a performance for the ages.”
Although Owens took home gold in the 100- and 200-meters, the 400 relay and the long jump, when he returned from the Berlin Games he struggled to provide for his family in the United States. Not only were his job options limited by segregation, but because he opted to return home instead of touring with the U.S. Olympic Team, Owens was stripped of his amateur athletic status. He worked various odd jobs, from being a band leader to working for the parks department to public speaking.
“Even though he came back an Olympic hero, he wasn’t offered opportunities that Olympic heroes of today are offered,” says his daughter, Marlene Owens Rankin, 74. “We lived well, a middle class life. We didn’t want for much. But like many black men of that era, he struggled to provide for his family.”
In all Owens had four gold medals. One he gave to dancer and movie star Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who had befriended Owens after the athlete return from the Olympics. The medal up for auction comes from the estate of Robinson’s widow. While the Robinson family declined to comment about the sale, Imler says the family plans to use the proceeds to pay college tuition and contribute to charity.
“We just hope that it’s purchased by an institution where the public could have access to it, a museum or something like that,” Owens’ daughter says.