Posted: June 29, 2007 in Justice

One of the things I love about traveling to new areas is learning their neat little claims to fame. This week’s trip to the four-city cluster of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia in Northwest Alabama uncovered the birthplaces of two extremely famous people from American history: Helen Keller and Jesse Owens.

I just missed the Helen Keller Festival, held each year in June on the weekend closest to her June 27 birthday (though, ironically, I traveled there on June 27).

On my way home yesterday, I decided to stop and visit the Jesse Owens Museum in tiny Oakville, Alabama.

It is ironic at best that there is an Alabama museum to Jesse Owens. There is a replica of the house where he spent his first nine years on the property, a house where his nine siblings slept on the floor in one room while their sharecropping parents slept in the “other” room, which doubled as the family living room. There was no real education for the black sharecropping kids in Alabama, so when Jesse was nine they moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in hope of a better life. Life was better for black people in Ohio, and it was there that an observant track coach “discovered” Jesse Owens.

And now, in what the Owens family remembered as a horrible place, there are road signs and travel brochures leading you to a museum built in his honor.

On one hand, it’s sad: a community that oppressed a family trying to make a buck off of them.

On the other hand, it’s appropriate: the sins of oppression have been memorialized – so people can never forget.

  1. Al Sturgeon says:

    Couple of thoughts to add on…

    #1: I said life was “better” in Cleveland, but sure wasn’t good. Just relatively speaking…

    #2: A friend sent me a good email that pointed out the negative perspective of this post. Point well taken. The Oakville, Alabama, that dedicated this museum, as my friend pointed out, is very proud of what Jesse Owens became, and that should be emphasized.

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