James Cleveland Owens, the seventh child of Henry and Emma Alexander Owens, was born in Oakville, Alabama, on September 12, 1913 – the son of a sharecropper (a farmer who rents land) and grandson of slaves. He was a sickly child, often too frail to help his father and brothers in the fields. ‘JC,’ as he was called, was nine when the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio where he attended public school. When his teacher asked his name to enter in her roll book, she was told “JC,’ but she thought he said ‘Jesse.’ The name stuck.
In high school had college days he won all of the major track events. Jesse entered the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and won four track and field gold medals. After the games had finished, Owens struggled for money and he began to participate in stunt races against dogs, motorcycles and even horses during halftime of soccer matches and between doubleheaders of baseball games. In 1946, the Harlem Globetrotter basketball team came to Hawai‘i; Jesse Owens came too. They performed in Honolulu and Hilo. Jesse Owens, raced the Big Island’s fastest horse at Hilo’s Hoʻolulu Park – the horse won.