The Jesse Owens Museum was built as a living memorial in his birthplace of Oakville, Alabama, with the purpose of honoring the world’s greatest athlete and humanitarian, while seeking to inspire youth with Owens’ example, for generations to come.
And although he died in 1980, Owens, the idea of planting an oak tree came from Owens’ lips years ago. James Pinion, the Park Director, sat alone one day reviewing the film Return to Berlin, a documentary of the 1936 Olympic Games that is narrated by Owens. In it, Owens says, “You stand on the winners’ platform. A laurel leaf is placed on your head. You receive a gold medal. You are given a little oak tree to plant. You are an Olympic champion.” Towards the end of the film, Owens tells what he did with the trees when he got home. “I planted one in my mother’s back yard in Cleveland and one at my old high school,” he said. “Another stands among the cherished mementos on All-American Road at Ohio State University. The other one died.”
James Pinion felt like Owens was speaking to him – telling him to do something about that. He said, “Perhaps the plant didn’t die, that it was just on hold for a reason . . . to live here at his birthplace.”
Mr. Pinion contacted Jesse Owens widow, Ruth Owens, as she was delighted with the plan. The fourth seedling which did not survive was symbolically replaced on May 16, 1998, 62 years later. Jeese Owens’ family planted the tree at the site of his birthplace. The plaque is inscribed: “May the tree grow to the honor of Jesse Owens’ victories and achievements.”
*The tree planted at Jesse Owens’ high school was removed during an expansion, but not before Owens had his photo taken with it in 1972.
*The tree planted at Ohio State was transplanted to the library site in 1948 to make way for parking lots and a service building. The exact location and status of the tree is unknown.