A super-friendly staff is here to help interpret the exhibits at the Jesse Owens Memorial Park in the Oakville/Moulton area of north Alabama. Though the Owens family moved from the region to Ohio when Jesse was still a young boy, the community takes pride in his accomplishments — and what he was able to overcome when just a small child here.
Here, the Owens family donated this telegram from the Philadelphia Tribune Jesse received at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. “America justly proud of your outstanding victories we join with the sport lovers the world over who are acclaiming you the world’s greatest athlete.”
Here, a replica of his Olympic uniform. He won four gold medals in those Olympic games, and was the first person to ever do so.
and a track time program from the ’36 Olympics
While many of the items on display are replicas, that doesn’t subtract from the experience
Adidas also donated items to make up an exhibit on the differences in track conditions and equipment to show that even in Jesse’s time, his 10.3 second 100 meter was less than .4 seconds slower than the more contemporary Carl Lewis…when track technology now plays much more in favor of the athlete, with aerodynamic uniforms and track surfaces and such.
Outside, there’s a long jump area at which visitors can see how far they can go compared to Jesse, and what was most powerful — a replica of the small home his family lived in
There were two bedrooms — one for the parents (and I imagine where newborns would have slept too)
and another for the children. A button one may push along one wall activates a recording of one of Jesse’s brothers telling about life here. In this room, the children slept in both directions of the bed, which is why there are pillows at each end. Jesse was the seventh child — and it should be noted that at this time, he went by the name J.C. It wasn’t until the family moved up north that the teacher misunderstood and called him ‘Jesse’.
Jesse’s father was a sharecropper and his mother took in washing, but he was too sick to help much like his other siblings did, as he would fall sick and stay that way for long periods. When well enough, though, he enjoyed running and by high school, was able to turn it into a real sport, and found much success in those years.
Ohio State recruited him although they didn’t have a track scholarship to offer, and he took on all kinds of jobs to support himself and his wife Ruth through the college years. After attaining so much success in the Olympics, for decades Jesse traveled the world giving motivational speeches and served as corporate consultant. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Posthumously, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1990.
President Carter said about him:
“Perhaps no athlete better symbolized the human struggle against tyranny, poverty and racial bigotry. His personal triumphs as a world-class athlete and record holder were the prelude to a career devoted to helping others. His work with young athletes, as an unofficial ambassador overseas, and a spokesman for freedom are a rich legacy to his fellow Americans.”
Only five or so minutes away from the Jesse Owens museum is the Oakman Indian Mounds Education Center, which from the outside belies its striking interior, with its centerpiece being this statue of Sequoyah, with a plaque about his life and the alphabet he developed
…surrounded by case after case after case of arrowheads and other tools
One thing that especially makes this museum different is that it is actually owned by the local school system.
Other displays included taxidermy and these hides, but inside there wasn’t as much as one would expect about the moundbuilders and what we know about the mounds they constructed just outside
Of the exhibits, though, there was one case with a civil war diorama. In fact, its label was a simple typewritten sheet by the author which begins, “Hello, this is Robert Hughes speaking! I made everything in this display by hand, it took three years…”
further, “…The reason for showing a Civil War Display in an Indian Museum is because Native Americans fought on both sides of the conflict…”
and further along still “…Each figurine, each building, each tree, and everything you see before you were hand made. The tiny soldiers were crafted from one-eighth wooden dowels, solder wore and dental plaster. Each head was carved from an 8mm wooden bead. No two faces are just alike. I have 300 tiny soldiers and other figurines in this display…”
There’s a road around the property, and just behind the museum is this Copena burial mound. The historic marker here reads:
Copena Indians built this mound with baskets of dirt some 2000 years ago. The Copena name was derived from their use of copper and galena (lead ore) found in their burials along with gorgets and celts. The mounds were a burial site with the dead encased in a plaster of clay covered with layers of soil. The many burial mounds within a few miles are evidence of an extensive cultural center. The perennial springs and fertile lands encircled by West Flint Creek contributed to a large population. The Copena society flourished here for hundreds of years and they raised a variety of domesticated crops. some 17 miles north of here the Tennessee River provided an inexhaustible food supply of fresh water mussels. In the mid 1800’s settlers were buried on the mounds under false stone crypts. In 1924, Smithsonian archaeologists noted three other burial mounds in the areas that were being leveled by farmers.
Atop this mound are graves from the 1840s with box tomb monuments (I don’t go up on burial mounds, but you can see the monuments in this image)
Another historic marker for this mound:
Rising 27 feet high, this is the largest woodland mound in Alabama, with a base covering 1.8 acres and a flat of over one acre. Built by prehistoric Copena Indians, the mound is 2,000 years old and constructed from earth probably carried one basket at a time from the Oakville pond area, 300 yards to the east. The Copena, named for their use of copper and galena, were prolific mound builders, as shown by the remains of over 20 mounds in the surrounding area. They were primarily farmers and hunter~ gatherers who engaged in ritual burials, with the dead often encased in a putty mixture of clay, ash and crushed shells. They were great traders in conch shells, marble, greenstone, copper and galena, all of which were found as mortuary offerings during the 1924 Smithsonian excavation of the Alexander Mound four miles to the southwest. Although the Oakville mound has never been excavated, it was the center of the Copena society of the Moulton Valley and was used for ceremonials, religious, social and cultural purposes.