OOS Archival Object

Jesse Owens Olympic Oak

Date Unknown / Creator Unknown

Owens tree 1_Photo Andrea Gyorody 2020 (1).JPG

Many Clevelanders know that track star Jesse Owens grew up in the city after moving here from the South during the height of the Great Migration. Few Clevelanders are likely aware, however, that planted behind James Ford Rhodes High School in Old Brooklyn is an oak tree Owens received from the Nazis at the 1936 Olympics. The tree, officially the Jesse Owens Olympic Oak, was one of three or four saplings he brought back to the U.S. from Berlin, Germany, where he was the first American in Olympic Track and Field history to win four gold medals in a single Olympiad. He planted one tree behind his mother’s house, which was torn down along with the tree in the 1960s; and another at Rhodes, where he had been bussed to run track, though he had actually attended East Technical High School in Central Cleveland. The other two trees have disputed histories: Owens claimed one died and the other was planted at The Ohio State University, where he attended college, but searches for the oak have not yielded a definitive identification. Others say he planted a tree at East Tech that did not survive. It is also possible that Owens was never in possession of a fourth tree, which was instead claimed by his 400-meter-relay teammates, two of whom, Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff, planted an Olympic oak at the University of Southern California; that tree died of root rot in 2002, and was replaced with a tree of the same variety.

Whatever the fate of the other two or three Owens oaks, the tree at Rhodes High School is the only one still alive whose provenance is undisputed, though it, too, has been suffering for some time of old age and disease. Working with Holden Arboretum and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation (OBCDC) began a grafting project in 2016 that has enabled them to clone the Owens oak. By summer 2020, they had successfully grown several clones, one of which has been planted for safe-keeping on the grounds of the arboretum, and a second of which will be planted in Rockefeller Park, near a bike path named for Olympic runner William Harrison Dillard. The OBCDC hopes to use the oaks to draw attention to the racism Owens experienced in Cleveland before, during, and after his Olympic career, and to create opportunities for Black and Brown youth in Old Brooklyn today—a neighborhood that was once one of the wealthiest in the city, with a population that was almost entirely white when Owens commuted there to run the track at Rhodes.

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Citation

: “Jesse Owens Olympic Oak,” Ohio Outdoor Sculpture , accessed September 28, 2020, http://oos.sculpturecenter.org/index.php/items/show/1687.

Dublin Core

Title

Jesse Owens Olympic Oak

Description

Many Clevelanders know that track star Jesse Owens grew up in the city after moving here from the South during the height of the Great Migration. Few Clevelanders are likely aware, however, that planted behind James Ford Rhodes High School in Old Brooklyn is an oak tree Owens received from the Nazis at the 1936 Olympics. The tree, officially the Jesse Owens Olympic Oak, was one of three or four saplings he brought back to the U.S. from Berlin, Germany, where he was the first American in Olympic Track and Field history to win four gold medals in a single Olympiad. He planted one tree behind his mother’s house, which was torn down along with the tree in the 1960s; and another at Rhodes, where he had been bussed to run track, though he had actually attended East Technical High School in Central Cleveland. The other two trees have disputed histories: Owens claimed one died and the other was planted at The Ohio State University, where he attended college, but searches for the oak have not yielded a definitive identification. Others say he planted a tree at East Tech that did not survive. It is also possible that Owens was never in possession of a fourth tree, which was instead claimed by his 400-meter-relay teammates, two of whom, Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff, planted an Olympic oak at the University of Southern California; that tree died of root rot in 2002, and was replaced with a tree of the same variety.

Whatever the fate of the other two or three Owens oaks, the tree at Rhodes High School is the only one still alive whose provenance is undisputed, though it, too, has been suffering for some time of old age and disease. Working with Holden Arboretum and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation (OBCDC) began a grafting project in 2016 that has enabled them to clone the Owens oak. By summer 2020, they had successfully grown several clones, one of which has been planted for safe-keeping on the grounds of the arboretum, and a second of which will be planted in Rockefeller Park, near a bike path named for Olympic runner William Harrison Dillard. The OBCDC hopes to use the oaks to draw attention to the racism Owens experienced in Cleveland before, during, and after his Olympic career, and to create opportunities for Black and Brown youth in Old Brooklyn today—a neighborhood that was once one of the wealthiest in the city, with a population that was almost entirely white when Owens commuted there to run the track at Rhodes.