Friday, May 7, 2010

Jesse Owens and American eugenics

Jesse Owens receiving Gold Medal for long jump - Berlin Olympics1936

Jesse Owens - a chapter in the history of eugenics

Forget Hitler - it was America that snubbed black Olympian Jesse Owens (excerpts)
Throughout the tortured history of sports and politics, one moment has always stood above the others: Jesse Owens's performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

A black man entered Hitler's Coliseum and destroyed the theory of Aryan physical supremacy by winning four gold medals in track and field.
Owens always resisted his role as a political symbol. Having grown up in the segregated American South, the grandson of slaves, he was impatient with American claims of moral superiority over the Nazis.

'After all those stories about Hitler and his snub, I came back to my native country and I couldn't ride in the front of the bus,' Owens recalled. 'I had to go to the back door. I couldn't live where I wanted. Now what's the difference?'

Owens was given a tickertape parade in New York. But when he arrived at the Waldorf Astoria hotel for a reception in his honour, he was instructed to take the service lift rather than the normal guest lift, which was reserved for whites.

President Franklin Roosevelt never congratulated Owens or invited him to the White House. 'Hitler didn't snub me - it was FDR who snubbed me,' Owens said.
Instead of the endorsements or acclaim a modern athlete might expect, Owens was expelled from the American Amateur Athletics Union after he went home to try to cash in on his post-Olympic fame rather than star for his country in a tournament in Sweden.

He was reduced to becoming a kind of circus act to support his family... Owens would run sprints against athletes from other sports, even against cars, motorbikes, dogs and horses. He worked as a janitor at a children's playground and petrol pump attendant.

'People said it was degrading for an Olympic champion to run against a horse, but what was I supposed to do?' he said. 'I had four gold medals, but you can't eat four gold medals.'
'After I came home with my four medals,' he said, 'everyone wanted to slap me on the back, shake my hand or have me up to their suite. But no one was going to offer me a job.'
Eugenics and the Nazis -- the California connection (excerpts)
Hitler and his henchmen victimized an entire continent and exterminated millions in his quest for a so-called Master Race.

But the concept of a white, blond-haired, blue-eyed master Nordic race didn't originate with Hitler. The idea was created in the United States, and cultivated in California, decades before Hitler came to power. California eugenicists played an important, although little-known, role in the American eugenics movement's campaign for ethnic cleansing.

Eugenics was the pseudoscience aimed at "improving" the human race. In its extreme, racist form, this meant wiping away all human beings deemed "unfit," preserving only those who conformed to a Nordic stereotype. Elements of the philosophy were enshrined as national policy by forced sterilization and segregation laws, as well as marriage restrictions, enacted in 27 states. In 1909, California became the third state to adopt such laws. Ultimately, eugenics practitioners coercively sterilized some 60,000 Americans, barred the marriage of thousands, forcibly segregated thousands in "colonies," and persecuted untold numbers in ways we are just learning. Before World War II, nearly half of coercive sterilizations were done in California, and even after the war, the state accounted for a third of all such surgeries.

California was considered an epicenter of the American eugenics movement. During the 20th century's first decades, California's eugenicists included potent but little-known race scientists, such as Army venereal disease specialist Dr. Paul Popenoe, citrus magnate Paul Gosney, Sacramento banker Charles Goethe, as well as members of the California state Board of Charities and Corrections and the University of California Board of Regents.

Eugenics would have been so much bizarre parlor talk had it not been for extensive financing by corporate philanthropies, specifically the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune. They were all in league with some of America's most respected scientists from such prestigious universities as Stanford, Yale, Harvard and Princeton. These academicians espoused race theory and race science, and then faked and twisted data to serve eugenics' racist aims.

Stanford President David Starr Jordan originated the notion of "race and blood" in his 1902 racial epistle "Blood of a Nation," in which the university scholar declared that human qualities and conditions such as talent and poverty were passed through the blood.

In 1904, the Carnegie Institution established a laboratory complex at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island that stockpiled millions of index cards on ordinary Americans, as researchers carefully plotted the removal of families, bloodlines and whole peoples. From Cold Spring Harbor, eugenics advocates agitated in the legislatures of America, as well as the nation's social service agencies and associations.

The Harriman railroad fortune paid local charities, such as the New York Bureau of Industries and Immigration, to seek out Jewish, Italian and other immigrants in New York and other crowded cities and subject them to deportation, confinement or forced sterilization.

The Rockefeller Foundation helped found the German eugenics program and even funded the program that Josef Mengele worked in before he went to Auschwitz.
Jesse Owens 1936 Olympics Adolf Hitler

Jesse Owens, Berlin '36

Jesse Owens in Berlin (1/5)

Jesse Owens in Berlin (2/5)

Jesse Owens in Berlin (3/5)

Jesse Owens in Berlin (4/5)

Jesse Owens in Berlin (5/5)

1 comment:

  1. This was supposed to be my "happy" piece for the week. The original title was "for God all things are possible". But as I started researching the story of Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics a darker story emerged.