Owens and Biko…Men Who Did It Their Way

Jesse Owens was born today in 1913 and Steve Biko was murdered today in a South African jail in 1977. Both brave men stood up to bigotry and prejudice and exhibited determination and belief that everyone is entitled to equal and civil rights. They did it their way.

“Jesse Owens, the son of a sharecropper and grandson of a slave, achieved what no Olympian before him had accomplished. His stunning achievement of four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin has made him the best remembered athlete in Olympic history. The seventh child of Henry and Emma Alexander Owens was named James Cleveland when he was born in Alabama on September 12, 1913. “J.C.”, as he was called, was nine when the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where his new schoolteacher gave him the name that was to become known around the world. The teacher was told “J.C.” when she asked his name to enter in her roll book, but she thought he said “Jesse”. The name stuck and he would be known as Jesse Owens for the rest of his life.”jesseowens.com

I recently saw the wonderful HBO doc, “Glickman,” about the great, great sportscaster ( and so much more than that!), Marty Glickman who trained with Jesse Owens for the 1936 Olympics. Since Glickman was Jewish, he wasn’t allowed to run and Jesse Owens was going to give up his spot on the team for Glickman to run. Marty Glickman never forgot that and greatly admired Owens.If you haven’t seen this doc, catch a repeat of it, it’s great.

“Bantu Stephen Biko was born on December 18, 1946, in King William’s Town, South Africa, in what is now the Eastern Cape  Province. Politically active at a young age, Biko was expelled from high school for his activism, and subsequently enrolled at St. Francis College in the Mariannhill area of KwaZulu-Natal. After graduating from St. Francis in 1966, Biko began attending the University of Natal Medical School, where he became active with the National Union of South African Students, a multiracial organization advocating for the improvement of black citizens’ rights.”biography.com

“In 1968, Steve Biko became the cofounder and first president of the all-Black South African Students’ Organization (SASO) The primary aim of the organization was to raise black consciousness in South Africa through lectures and community activities. Biko concluded that the apartheid system had a psychological effect on the Black population, which had caused Blacks to internalize and believe Whites’ racist stereotypes. According to Biko, Blacks had been convinced that they were inferior to Whites, which resulted in the hopelessness that was prevalent in the Black community. Biko preached Black solidarity to “break the chains of oppression”. Biko’s political activities eventually drew the attention of the South African government resulting in him being banned in 1973. The banning restricted Biko from talking to more than one person a time in an attempt to suppress the rising political movement. The banning did not stop Biko’s commitment to activism. For the next four years, he continued to spread his message at gatherings and with his underground publication called “Frank Talk”. During this period Biko was often harassed, arrested, and detained by the South African Police.On August 18, 1977, Biko was seized by the police and detained under section 6 of the Terrorism Act. This draconian law had resulted in the loss of freedom of over 40,000 Blacks in South Africa since 1950. The law permitted the police to hold Biko in jail indefinitely, however the end of his term was due to his violent death, not freedom. Biko was held in prison for twenty-four days were he was interrogated, starved, and brutally beaten. It wasn’t until Biko was laying unconscious, that the doctors suggested that he be transported to Pretoria for medical treatment, 740 miles away. On September 12, 1977, Biko became the forty-first person in South Africa to die while being held in the custody of the South African Police.”zar.co













3 thoughts on “Owens and Biko…Men Who Did It Their Way

  1. This is a thoughtful and discussion-provoking piece, Ilene. Steve Biko, in particular, is not as well known as he should be. In Chicago, one of the 50 elementary schools that were closed this year was named for Jesse Owens. His daughters and the community are now trying to reinstate his name in the school to which the Owens students were moved to. http://bit.ly/14Osdds

    • Thank you so much, Nancy…I do hope the that the Owens’ daughters are successful! It’s sad that Steven Biko isn’t as well known as he should be. There is so much history that is not taught in schools, especially on the elementary grade level because too many teachers are uninformed and do not realize they can integrate the content areas, still cover what’s mandated to be covered, but also, teach history and current events! I’m a retired teacher; I know from whence I speak!!!!

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