Jesse Owens/Luz Long


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I am here, Jesse, where it seems there is only the dry sand and the wet blood. I do not fear so much for myself,
my friend, I fear for my woman who is home, and my young son Karl, who has never really known his father.

Luz Long, in a letter to Jesse Owens

During the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, American Jesse Owens competed in twelve events and won four gold medals. What made Owens’ feat even more remarkable was that he did it as a Black person at an athletic event in the heart of Nazi Germany hosted by Adolf Hitler who was trumpeting Aryan superiority.

Owens’ gold medal in the long jump held meaning that transcended the athletic attainment. He was competing against German and European record holder Luz Long. They battled throughout the long jump competition, exceeding the old Olympic record five times. Owens set a new world record on his final winning jump, besting Long who earned the silver medal. He warmly congratulated Owens in full view of Hitler, taking photographs together and strolling arm-in-arm to the locker room.

Having bonded in Berlin, Long and Owens corresponded afterwards. While stationed with the German Army in North Africa during World War II, Long wrote his last letter to Owens.

My heart tells me, if I be honest with you, that this is the last letter I shall ever write. If it is so, I ask you something. It is something so very important to me. It is you go to Germany when this war is done, someday find my Karl, and tell him about his father. Tell him, Jesse, what times were like when we not separated by war. I am saying — tell him how things can be between men on this earth. . . . If you do this something for me, this thing I need the most to know will be done . . . I tell you something I know you want to hear . . . it is true. That hour in Berlin when I first spoke to you, when you had your knee upon the ground, I knew that you were in prayer. . . . And you, I believe, will read this letter . . . I believe this shall come about because I think now that God will make it come about. This what I have to tell you, Jesse. I think I might believe in God. And I pray to him that, even while it should not be possible for this to reach you ever, these words I write will still be read by you.

Your brother, Luz

During the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, Long was killed in action, but his heart’s desire lived on. Owens received Long’s letter and, after the war, traveled to Germany to meet Long’s son Karl. Going the extra mile, Owens befriended Karl and even served as best man at his wedding. You should also go the extra mile to develop relationships with others; to do so:

Yes, go out of your way to get to know someone better. You may not have to go to Europe like Owens, but what about crosstown? Share your life story and get to know theirs. Spend time together outside of the usual habitat. If you work in the same place, visit each other’s house of worship, or favorite workout spot, outdoor space, or sporting event. One of Jesus’ directives from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:41) pronounced this precept: If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.

Be transparent: share some things about yourself to establish a comfort level, so the other person will open up. Be careful not to ventilate and suck all the emotional air out the room. Remember — it’s not just about you. It’s about us: you and others experiencing the mutual benefit of heartfelt sharing.

Be the one to do that something special to deepen the relationship; that special stride to cross the cultural border; that insightful initiative to strengthen the bond. Reach out to affirm that the individual connection is more powerful than the cultural barrier.

Owens served as best man in the wedding of his friend’s son. Like him, seek to do something extraordinary for someone else. When you go the extra mile, you touch others in transformational ways.


Transcend – be or go beyond the range or limits of (something abstract, typically a conceptual field or division); surpass (a person or achievement).

Born in Alabama in 1913, Jesse Owens was the son of a sharecropper and grandson of a slave. When he was nine, as part of the Great Migration, Owens moved with his family to Cleveland, Ohio in pursuit of socio-economic advancement. Because of his athletic promise, Owens’ track coach permitted to practice before school; he couldn’t do it after school with the rest of the team due to the job he worked to help support his family. Luz Long was a lawyer in Hamburg, Germany while continuing to compete as a German track star. Long served in the Wehrmacht, the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany, during World War II.

When Jesse Owens triumphed at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Nazi Germany, officially known as the German Reich, was rising in power. Adolf Hitler had been appointed chancellor of Germany in 1933 and, by the time of the Summer Olympic Games, had transformed his rule into a dictatorship and the nation into a totalitarian state projecting the Nazis as the master race implementing antisemitism, racism and Nazi eugenics. Hitler’s reign of terror did not end until May 1945 with Germany’s defeat by the Allies, which ended World War II in Europe.

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