Three small markers were all that honored Jesse Owens in Oakville, Alabama, the Olympic champion’s birthplace. In 1983, the Lawrence County Commission voted not to put a monument on the courthouse square to the dismay of many Lawrence County residents. However, this vote by the Lawrence County Commission only served to ignite passion in the hearts of those who wanted an appropriate tribute for this Olympic great. It would be years before this tribute became a reality.
In 1991, Therman White, an Oakville, Alabama resident, visited the Lawrence County office of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in Moulton, Alabama to discuss the development of a park to honor Jesse Owens. This is when White met James Pinion, County Agent Coordinator. White had procured land across the street from where the current markers were located. However, at the time the land was nothing more than a cow pasture. With land in hand, White now needed additional funds to build a park. The match of White and Pinion was dynamic. The two, working through Auburn University, raised more than $2 million for the development and construction of the park.
Dr. Tom Chestnut, Auburn University Tourism Specialist, designed the park’s development plan, and the park was underway. From 1991 to 1994 fundraising was slow. Then Pinion decided to petition the Olympic Torch Committee to reroute the Olympic torch through the park in route to Olympic games in Atlanta. When the committee agreed, funds began to pour in, and the race was on to finish the park.
The Jesse Owens Memorial Park was completed just a few days before the arrival of the Olympic torch. The park was dedicated June 29, 1996.
On October 28, 2005, Hampton Inn Corporation’s Save-A-Landmark Program furnished volunteers from the company and a check for over $38,000 to revitalize the Jesse Owens Memorial Park. Volunteers and local contractors worked together to paint, clean, and complete extensive landscaping giving the park a new complexion. Hampton Inn is a part of the Hilton hotel chain, an official sponsor of the 2006 and 2008 U. S. Olympic teams.
Twenty-five volunteers from north Alabama Hampton Hotels landscaped, primed and painted at the park on Thursday, Oct. 27. Hampton Hotels contributed more than $38,000 toward reviving this historical landmark, which is the 25th roadside attraction refurbished by Hampton’s “Save-A-Landmark” program. Hampton has provided more than $1.5 million for restoration of America’s roadside treasures since its inception in 2000.