After the 1936 Olympics, Jesse accepts a job as playground instructor for underprivileged youth in Cleveland, earning $30 a week. A year later he becomes a bandleader, owner of a basketball team and part owner in a dry cleaning business. Jesse still has school on his mind. In 1940, with money he earns in an exhibition race against a horse, Jesse returns to OSU to resume his studies.
In 1949, the Owens family moves to Chicago where Jesse launches a public relations company. He travels extensively, speaking on athletic competition and its ability to inspire race relations. In 1955 he is named Ambassador of Sports by President Eisenhower and tours the world promoting the virtues of amateur programs. Jesse serves as Eisenhower’s personal representative to the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia.
In 1965 Jesse serves as running coach for the New York Mets, and five years later publishes Blackthink: My Life as a Black Man and White Man.
In 1970, Jesse Owens is inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. Shortly after, Jesse retires. He and Ruth move to Phoenix where he serves on the boards of Memorial Hospital, The National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Salvation Army’s Family Advisory Center. In 1972, Jesse receives an honorary doctorate of athletic arts from OSU.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford presents Jesse Owens the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the US bestows upon a civilian, saying, “Your character, your achievement, always will be a source of inspiration.” Then in 1979, President Jimmy Carter presents Jesse Owens with the Living Legend Award.
Jesse Owens who had been a pack-a-day cigarette smoker for 35 years, died of lung cancer on March 31, 1980 at the age of 66.
In 1988, President George H. Bush presents Ruth Owens the Congressional Gold Medal for Jesse’s accomplishments in track, his patriotism and his humanitarianism saying his accomplishments were “an unrivaled athletic triumph, but more than that, it really was a triumph for all humanity.”
In 1980 Owens’ friends and family united to find a way to honor the spirit of a man who strongly believed in his country and the value of its youth. With that spirit in mind, the Jesse Owens Foundation was created.
He was a dreamer who could make the dreams of others come true. As a speaker he could make the world listen. Through his living example he gave hope to millions of young people by working with them, sharing himself with the little material wealth that he had. He was as much the champion on the playground in the poorest neighborhoods as he was in the Olympic games.
He believed and said, “There is no such thing as an average kid.”