On this day in 1936, African American track and field athlete Jesse Owens won the first of four gold medals at the Berlin Summer Olympics, eventually becoming the most successful competitor in the games — and as such, crushing the Nazi leadership’s hopes of proving “Aryan superiority” (Nazi propaganda had anticipated that other inferior races, like Owens’ would be soundly defeated by Aryans).
Indeed, Hitler himself was reportedly “highly annoyed” by Owens’ triumph, remarking that his ancestors were primitive jungle dwellers that were biologically stronger than more civilized whites, and should thus be excluded from future games (so much for anticipating an easy “Aryan” success). It is still an open debate whether Owens was actually snubbed by the Nazi leader (even Owens himself disputed this at the time), though clearly he was indignant about it.
Unfortunately, Owens did get snubbed back home despite how well he represented his country. When he returned, he still had to stay in segregated hotels (which had not even been the case in Nazi Germany), and he was not even permitted to go through the main entrance of the luxurious Waldorf Astoria New York where a reception awaited him. He was also never thanked by President Roosevelt for his record breaking performance, although this may have had more to do with his support for FDR’s political opponent.