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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Proving the Nazis wrong

The NY Times ran a review on Friday of the new movie "Race," which tells the story of Jesse Owens, the great runner who won the 100, 200, and long jump at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, along with a relay gold.

One almost never hears about Owens without being told that his victories single-handedly crushed Hitler's myth of Aryan supremacy and that Hitler, upon seeing Owens' triumphs, stormed out of the stadium, refusing to shake his hand.

The story of Hitler storming off after Owen's victories is fiction. According to Wikipedia:

On the first day of competition, Hitler shook hands with only the German victors and then left the stadium. Olympic committee officials insisted Hitler greet every medalist or none at all. Hitler opted for the latter and skipped all further medal presentations. Historians have noted that Hitler may have left the games at this time due to looming rain clouds that might have postponed the games. This happened well before Owens was to compete, but has largely come to be believed to be the "snub." On reports that Hitler had deliberately avoided acknowledging his victories, and had refused to shake his hand, Owens said at the time:

"Hitler had a certain time to come to the stadium and a certain time to leave. It happened he had to leave before the victory ceremony after the 100 meters. But before he left I was on my way to a broadcast and passed near his box. He waved at me and I waved back. I think it was bad taste to criticize the 'man of the hour' in another country."

Contrast Owens' reception in Germany to the one he got in the US. Again, from Wikipedia:

In a 2009 interview, Siegfried Mischner, a German journalist, claimed that Owens carried around a photograph in his wallet of the Fuhrer shaking his hand before the latter left the stadium. Owens, who felt the newspapers of the day reported 'unfairly' on Hitler's attitude towards him, tried to get Mischner and his journalist colleagues to change the accepted version of history in the 1960s. Mischner claimed Owens showed him the photograph and told him: "That was one of my most beautiful moments." Mischner added "(the picture) was taken behind the honour stand and so not captured by the world's press. But I saw it, I saw him shaking Hitler's hand!" According to Mischner, "the predominating opinion in post-war Germany was that Hitler had ignored Owens, so we therefore decided not to report on the photo. The consensus was that Hitler had to continue to be painted in a bad light in relation to Owens." For some time, Mischner's assertion was not confirmed independently of his own account, and Mischner himself admitted in Mail Online that "All my colleagues are dead, Owens is dead. I thought this was the last chance to set the record straight. I have no idea where the photo is or even if it exists still."

However, in 2014, Eric Brown, British fighter pilot and test pilot, the Fleet Air Arm's most decorated living pilot, independently stated in a BBC documentary "I actually witnessed Hitler shaking hands with Jesse Owens and congratulating him on what he had achieved." Additionally, an article in The Baltimore Sun in August 1936 reported that Hitler sent Owens a commemorative inscribed cabinet photograph of himself.

Owens was allowed to travel with and stay in the same hotels in Germany as whites, while at the time African Americans in many parts of the United States had to stay in segregated hotels while traveling…. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) never invited Jesse Owens to the White House following his triumphs at the Olympics Games...

Speaking at a Republican rally held in Baltimore on October 9, 1936, Owens said "Some people say Hitler snubbed me. But I tell you, Hitler did not snub me. I am not knocking the President. Remember, I am not a politician, but remember that the President did not send me a message of congratulations because people said, he was too busy." Later, on October 15, 1936 Owens repeated this allegation when he addressed an audience of African Americans at a Republican rally in Kansas City remarking that "Hitler didn't snub me – it was our president who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram."

Hitler hasn't exactly gone down as the most sporting guy in history. And he may have been annoyed by Owens' triumphs. But, he at least gave Jesse Owens a friendlier reception than FDR did. 

The other implication of the way the Owens story is always told is that he somehow single-handedly disproved all theories about racial differences. And….how exactly did Owens do that? By running fast?

There is no race realist in existence who feels that blacks can't run as fast as whites. In fact, a race realist, by definition, is someone who looks at results -- which represent reality -- and draws conclusions from them, rather than from pre-approved propaganda. Anybody with an open mind would come to the conclusion that blacks are far more talented at sprinting. It's hard to argue with the fact that 8 out of 8 finalists in the 100 meter dash at the past 8 Olympiads have been of West African descent.

I've always had the vague sense that there was some physical culture and pride of health involved in Hitler's views on Aryan supremacy. But I also suspect he didn't base his theories primarily on Germans being the fastest sprinters. From Wiki:

Albert Speer wrote that Hitler "was highly annoyed by the series of triumphs by the marvelous colored American runner, Jesse Owens. People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive, Hitler said with a shrug; their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games."

Advocating sports segregation certainly doesn't sound fair; but acknowledging that blacks are physically stronger hardly makes it sound as if Hitler's theories on race were based on the ability of white sprinters to outrace blacks.

To imply that Owens dispelled any and all theories about racial differences by outrunning and out jumping whites is as silly as saying that Carl Lewis dispelled the myth of whites being responsible for most of the seminal scientific inventions by winning four golds in 1984.

Or that Usain Bolt destroyed the pernicious stereotype that blacks don't do as well on the SAT's by winning three golds in both 2008 and 2012.

Jesse Owens was an incredible athlete. And his most incredible feat came not in 1936, but in 1935, when, competing for Ohio State, he set four world records in the space of 45 minutes. (He set records in the 100 and 220 yard dashes, the 220 yard hurdles, and the long jump.) No one else has done anything like that since.

But the only conclusion about race that leads to is that blacks are better at running and jumping.

(By the way, the more you look into this, the more apparent it is that Owens is blameless in all of this. He had absolutely nothing to do with the mythologizing and propagandizing that sprung up around his athletic accomplishments.) 


Anonymous said...

Last night, I saw a piece on the national news about Jesse Owens, then later on, I watched a commercial covering the movie (that is based on his life). Since I didn't know much about this athlete, I did some investigating (via the internet). He was a great athlete. I was impressed by his character. He endured some hardships in life and from what I read about him, it's how he carried himself through them that marked him as a decent man. What's impressive is that during the time period that he lived, he won his awards based on his athletic abilities (no juicing). Jesse Owens is someone whom we can look up to.

- Susan

John Craig said...

Susan --
No question, Owens was an incredible athlete, and there were no steroids involved. And his time of 20.3 in the 220 yard dash, which equates to roughly 20.1 in the 200 meter dash, was run on a dirt track, which is unquestionably slower than a modern Tartan track.

Shaun F said...

John - I'm glad you wrote this. A person I know very well starred as Jessie Owens dad in this film. I had to do a bit of digging, similar to you, to debunk his idealized perception as to the facts. But as he's always in character, he would just laugh. I like the fact that Owens smoked a pack a day and still won!

John Craig said...

Shaun --
Thank you. Actually, the more you look into this, the better off Owens comes off. I don't blame him a bit for any of the propaganda that sprung up around him. He said until the end that Hitler was polite to him, he had nothing to do with the mythologizing that took place. Owens led a somewhat peripatetic life after his track career, but he was hamstrung by (a) the fact that athletes weren't allowed to be pros back in those days and (b) the fact that Jim Crow was still in effect in his day.

orionwrench said...

Owens, a remarkable athlete and a decent person from every account, did nothing wrong.

Blacks are, of course, better at some kinds of athletic contest, but it's important to note that certain blacks, that is those from specific tribes or groups of tribes, or at least somewhat or substantially so, strongly tend to be better at certain sports. West Africans are great at certain distances of running and terrible at others, or at least, never competitive at the highest levels. American blacks are mostly all admixtures of certain African tribes, with "Native American" (feather-not-dot Indians)and white in some proportion.

We must never say that because Joe is a such and such, he is bad at this or good at that. He might be completely counter to the stereotype. But that doesn't negate the stereotype. West Africans are going to dominate certain sports at international competition and we will see few or none in certain other sports.

Blacks in America will continue to do well in sports, in music and entertainment, and certain other areas and they will continue to perform poorly as a group in activities requiring cognitive capacity and persistence at doing things without immediate positive feedback.

Medicine is a good example. You have to commit to eight years of academic grind, much of it admittedly marginally relevant to modern medical practice, before you really start to learn to do what it is you are going to do. If blacks have to compete on a truly equal footing with whites for arbitrarily limited med school and residency slots, the number of blacks who become doctors will be miniscule, and everyone in power knows that. So either you set up a black-only med school and residency system for black doctors to treat blacks, or you practice affirmative action. Neither gives you black doctors of equal competency in proportion to white doctors, but the older system did have its advantages: the black med schools were geared to the students and gave them the basics with which they could treat most of their patients reasonably well and really difficult cases were referred to white specialists, of which there were enough who would treat blacks so referred that very few blacks died from preventable lack of care as such. And white med schools weren't watered down or forced to knowingly pass marginal or incompetent doctors.

John Craig said...

Orionwrench --
It's interesting to see the difference between West African and East African blacks. West Africans (including their descendants in the Americas) absolutely dominate sprinting, but are quite poor at distance running. East Africans -- generally from Ethiopia and Kenya -- completely dominate distance running these days. But I was surprised to read recently that the fastest any East African has ever run the 100 meter dash is 10.4 seconds (Usain Bolt's WR is 9.58, a Frenchman has run 9.92, and a Chinese has run 9.99.)

A black guy once said to me that blacks are more comfortable with blacks, and so should have access to black doctors; he said this as a justification for affirmative action, and I thought that actually made sense. But the system you propose makes as much, if not more, sense. Are you a doctor?

Mark Caplan said...

I've long wondered about the Franklin Roosevelt snub of Jesse Owens. Roosevelt had to be cognizant of the feelings of Southern Democrats, who comprised a big part of his party. And I think Roosevelt was a race realist. But even given all that, I'm surprised his far-left, black-sympathetic wife Eleanor didn't somehow coerce her husband into praising or honoring or at least publicly acknowledging Jesse Owens' accomplishments. Although I reluctantly believe the account of the FDR snub for now, there is something implausible at the root of it.

John Craig said...

Mark --
The Southern Democrat explanation could be the right one. Or it could be something else. Did FDR regularly celebrate other sports heroes? If so, then his ignoring of Owens was definitely a snub; if not, then it's not. It might have even had something to do with the fact that FDR himself had polio and thus was less inclined to celebrate others' athletic achievements. Who knows.

I'm less interested in the FDR aspect of the story than with the falseness of the narrative that has sprung up around Owens' golds, which is (a) that Owens somehow single-handedly showed that racial differences do not exist, and (b) that Hitler snubbed him. A more honest narrative would state that Owens was one of the first to show that blacks are better at running and jumping, that Hitler was impressed by his athleticism and waved at him and later shook his hand, and that subsequently FDR snubbed Owens. But somehow, that's not the way the story gets told.

Mark Caplan said...

There's a kind of over-the-top honoring that whites heap on a few Golden Blacks that seems vaguely racist in its over-praise. Jesse Owens was one of those Golden Blacks.

Eisenhower named Owens America's international "Ambassador of Sports." Owens represented the president at the 1956 Australian Olympics. In 1976 Pres. Gerald Ford awarded Owens the Medal of Freedom. In 1979 Pres. Jimmy Carter presented Owens with the Library of Congress Living Legend Award. In 1990 Pres. George H. W. Bush presented to Owen's widow the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously.

At some point a grateful nation will no doubt erect a shrine to Jesse Owens on the Washington Mall. Then the slavery-besmirched state where Owens was born, Alabama, will be renamed Owensana. And finally we'll replace the Fourth of July with the Twelfth of September, Jesse Owens' birthday, as the supreme national holiday.

John Craig said...

Mark --
Ha, yes, there is a certain condescension and what is sometimes referred to as "the soft bigotry of low expectations" inherent in the overpraise of blacks. (As exemplified best by both Joe Biden's and Harry Reid's comments about Barack Obama back in '08, about how he was "clean" and "articulate" and so on.) But with Owens, it's not so much overpraise for his accomplishments, which from an athletic standpoint WERE incomparable. (Nobody equaled his Olympic achievements until Carl Lewis won golds for the same four events in '84, and Lewis never set a similar number of WR's.) With Owens, it was that he was used as proof of something that he wasn't proof of at all, and as propaganda against the Nazis, when in fact, at least on a personal basis, Hitler treated him with more respect than FDR did.

Mark Caplan said...

Did FDR regularly celebrate other sports heroes [while ignoring Jesse Owens]?

It's widely reported on the Web that Roosevelt invited only white American athletes from the Berlin Olympics to the White House. I couldn't find a primary source to confirm that.

Because of Roosevelt's paralysis, the president found swimming therapeutic and swam regularly. Maybe the athletes he invited to the White House was the U.S. Olympic swim team. But that's just a baseless wild guess on my part. There is evidence that Roosevelt held and acted on the usual attitude toward blacks that was common among whites of his day.

One lesser-known factoid was that the U.S. Olympic officials replaced the two Jewish runners on the U.S. relay team with Owens and another gentile in order not to offend the delicate sensibilities of their Nazi hosts.

John Craig said...

Mark --
Wow, if Roosevelt invited only white athletes, that fact should be better publicized.

I knew about Glickman and Stoller, but I'm a track fan and thus would have heard of them; and as you say, they were victims of the US Olympic officials' decisions, not of FDR. I wonder what would have happened had they run in Munich; my guess is that pretty much nothing would have happened, given Hitler's evidently good manners toward Owens. And yes, the Owens story gets more publicity than Glickman and Stoller do.

Mark Caplan said...

I hope the information below interests more than just me. I did find an image at of a telegram to FDR that appears to show that FDR did honor Owens and the other American black Olympic athletes. Owens had always maintained that FDR, but not Hitler, had snubbed him.

The telegram was sent in 1936 by a member of the National Colored Committee of the Good Neighbor League (a Democratic organization working to reelect FDR). The sender was Bishop Richard R. Wright, Jr., a highly respected and well-educated author, sociologist, banker, and black minister.

Here is the text of the telegram from Rev. Wright.

To His Excellency Hon. Franklin D Roosevelt:

Tomorrow Thursday morning Jesse Owens has been officially selected to march at the head of the American Olympic [sic] in the welcome home parade up Broadway. Your National Colored Committee of the Good Neighbor League holds today its first meeting at 130 5th St YMCA and we will be honored to carry on by presenting your greetings scr [?] to these great athleets [sic] led by the fastest human Jesse Owens. This group is to meet Mrs. Roosevelt at 3 today.


Mark Caplan said...

Oops. Make that the 135th St YMCA (in Harlem).

John Craig said...

Mark --
That telegram doesn't seem to prove anything. The existence of an invitation from a member of the National Colored Committee to FDR to convey his greetings to a parade of Olympic athletes doesn't mean that FDR ever responded to that invitation. (Maybe he did, but proof of an invitation itself is not proof of acceptance of that invitation.) My guess is that FDR responded with an acknowledgement, something that effectively said, "Sure, go ahead and say hi to them for me," but we don't know that. The Wikipedia article that I quoted in this post actually referenced some parade honoring Owens in Manhattan after his gold medal victories. But again, that is not proof of FDR's involvement in any way. And why would Owens say for the rest of his life that FDR had snubbed him but Hitler hadn't if that were not the case?

Mark Caplan said...

I might have solved the mystery. Year 1936 marked the first time Democrats organized a concerted effort to win away the "Negro" vote from the party of Lincoln. Jesse Owens though was an outspoken, staunch Republican. He was born in Alabama, where the Democratic Party stood for Jim Crow and the KKK. If FDR snubbed Owens, the partisan mistrust was mutual. Owens strongly endorsed FDR's opponent, Republican Kansas Governor Alfred Landon, for the presidency!

Here are excerpts from an article in The NY Times dated Sept. 3, 1936, the same day that Jesse Owens led a grand ticker tape parade on Broadway:


Negro Star of Olympic Games Promises to 'Set Fast Pace' in Backing Kansan [for the presidency].


Tells Press Conference That the Democratic Party Made Bid for His Support.

The Eastern managers of the Republican national campaign announced yesterday that Jesse Owens, the Olympic Games track star, would support Governor Landon.

The youthful Negro holder or co-holder of half a dozen world's records in track and field events was introduced at the press conference yesterday afternoon....

"Here is Jesse Owens," said Rep. Joseph W. Martin Jr., Landon-Knox campaign manager in the East, as he presented the well dressed and well poised young college athlete to the newspaper men. "He is going to set as fast a pace for Landon in America as he set at the Olympic Games in Europe. Now he can speak for himself."

Owens, who is only 22 and will cast his first vote in a Presidential election this year, said that he would not only vote for Governor Landon, but would make speeches for him, if asked, to the extent "professional" engagements would permit.

While Democrats had bid for the support of Jesse Owens, he said that it was only natural that he should support Governor Landon because he was a Republican.

"I have told Congressman Martin," he said, "that my Olympic triumph would not mean much if I did not try to use the leadership those victories gave me to do something for my race. This country was made largely by the sweat of the brow of Negroes. I do not want to knock the present administration; President Roosevelt has done something but not enough to benefit the people of the colored race. But I believe the election of Governor Landon would be good for America and for the people of the colored race.

John Craig said...

Mark --
You've solved it. That makes perfect sense. In the South, the Democrats were the party of segregation for a long time. Both Lester Maddox and George Wallace were Democrats. So, yes, that must be it.

orionwrench said...

Oh, no, I'm not a doctor. I am a maintenance manager for a construction equipment rental company.

The system I suggested as a better alternative is simply the system that was in place throughout most of the twentieth century. Affirmative Action hit the medical schools late, probably in the mid-1980s, and in a few there is still very little of it. I have family members in the medical field, not doctors but nurses, technicians, pharmacists, that sort of field and I started studying the subject of Affirmative Action, and they told me the whole thing. Most competent whites and nonblack or mestizo nonwhite doctors and those who work for them know the score.

Before then, you had most black doctors and dentists having gone to HBCUs-Howard and so forth-and, even in the fifties and sixties, a few who really were smart and conscientious enough to be admitted into the regular pipeline, but a few. The HBCU doctors usually went into practice in black areas for exclusively black patients, and the few who went in the regular schools tended to specialize in fields where being black didn't matter. Those were largely respected by the medical profession, but white patients tended to shy away from them, nevertheless they sometimes had excellent careers. The HBCU black doctors were regarded as generally not terribly good but most were not terrifically dangerous either: blacks went to them for most things and if a really challenging case came along they knew to call for help. They did fine at the usual routine stuff: blacks got medical care that was behind the times somewhat, but few died due to malpractice. Black surgeons in inner city hospitals got good at trauma surgery in ways whites didn't, in fact, because shootings and stabbings were something they dealt with more.

What the average quality of black doctors today coming out of the remaining HBCU med schools is as compared to blacks coming out of other schools, I don't know. I have no idea. I think the number of "black" med schools may be a lot less than in the old days, but I know Howard is still going. It would be interesting to ask any practicing doctors, or any healthcare workers working with them, about this.

John Craig said...

Orionwrench --
What you say makes perfect sense. I wasn't familiar with the old system, but it sounds pretty benign. As far as affirmative action in the non-black med schools, yes, I can see why white patients shy away from black doctors. That's unfair to the black doctors who would have gotten into those schools based purely on their grades and not on their race, but with the current system in place, what else can you expect?

Dave Moriarty said...

Here is one for you: do you know who came in second behind Jesse Owens in the 200M ?
Mack Robinson. He was the older brother of another athlete you would hear about Jackie Robinson

John Craig said...

Dave --
I actually found that out when I was reading the Wiki writeup on Owens, and my son mentioned it to me too. Athletic talent definitely runs in families.

Mark Caplan said...

If you take the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin as a whole, Aryan superiority was amply demonstrated. The German athletes finished far in the lead with a total of 89 medals (33 gold). Great Britain won only 14 medals (4 gold). The United States came in second, but, being a mongrel nation, many of the "Americans" who won medals were probably of German ancestry, Jesse Owens being the notable exception. Even then, Owens was of much lighter hue than the actor Stephen James who portrayed Owens in the film Race.

John Craig said...

Mark --
Interesting. I'd never heard that analysis before. Germans do have a reputation (along with the Dutch) of being larger and stronger, on average, than other Europeans. But not by that much.

It's hard to tell with some of the old time photographs, some make Owens look lighter, some darker. His features weren't particularly mixed-looking. His face is a tad longer than the average pure West African, but his individual features look more or less African.

Anonymous said...

It amazes how you people praise blacks for this and that tit for tat, but still disrespect the intelligence of people you don't know. The insecurity is at an all time high here. Be happy with your personal accomplishments in life rather than drawing your sense of self worth from White Therapy. It really is pathetic the way people hold on to these powdered wig theories about so-called "black" people (whatever that is). It's time to be men and grow up.