Democrat FDR Snubs Jesse Owens and Republican Gerald Ford Honors Him

Posted by Britton McLinn on

Jesse Owens, an icon in athletic history, achieved unmatched success at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. His four gold medals shattered Hitler's Aryan supremacy myth and solidified him as a symbol of American excellence. Yet, upon returning to the United States, Owens’ triumph was met with a harsh reality.

Library of Congress

Owens expected a hero's welcome but faced a disappointing reality. Despite his exceptional achievements, he was denied the usual White House reception given to Olympic champions. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president at the time, decided to snub Jesse Owens. FDR did not extend an invitation to the White House or publicly acknowledge Owens' remarkable achievements.

Racist Democrats, mainly in the South, were staunch proponents of segregation. FDR made the calculated decision to side with the racists in his political party and not invite Owens or any of the other black American Olympic athletes to the White House. FDR invited all the white US Olympians to the White House.

Owens' snub remains a powerful symbol of the racial discrimination faced by black Americans during an era of supposed triumphs. Even celebrated black athletes like Owens were denied the recognition bestowed upon their white counterparts, underscoring the pervasive racial inequality of the time.

Despite these snubs, Jesse Owens persevered as a symbol of resilience and excellence. His legacy extends beyond the realms of athleticism, encapsulating the struggles against discrimination. Owens became a trailblazing athlete and an advocate for civil rights, leaving an indelible mark on the fight for equality.

Republican President Gerald Ford with Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens after presenting him with the Medal of Freedom in a White House East Garden ceremony in Washington, DC on August 5, 1976.  (AP Photo)  AnonymousOwens remained a cherished figure for the American public. In 1976, he was bestowed with the highest civilian honor – the Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented at the White House by President Gerald Ford, a Republican. This award ceremony finally unfolded, albeit four decades later. Taking place after the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, the White House lawn was bustling with Owens' contemporaries. These fellow athletes received well-deserved congratulations for their recent triumphs but also came to witness the recognition of the greatest American Olympian. Owens even had a fan in the President, who had observed Owens' record-breaking day at the Big Ten meet in 1935.


To view historical documents regarding this subject, read Netisha Currie's 2016 blog: Jesse Owens, American Hero