One of the highest symbols of athletic victory is surely the Olympic gold medal. Many know the story of how Jesse Owens, an African American track athlete, won this prestigious icon in front of Hitler and a Germany mobilizing for the most destructive war in human history. The film “Race,” which stars Stephan James as Owens, shows the athletic feats of the man, but also conveys a lesser known facet of the story: the feelings of human brotherhood between Owens and his primary competitor, Germany’s Lutz Long.
Marlene Dortch, granddaughter of Owens, commented on this relationship after a screening of the film and forum in Bowie, Maryland. She tells of how the two men pushed past the (racial) politics and tensions surrounding the 1936 Games and competed to the best of their abilities. Long and Owens wrote letters to each other after the games and kept in touch, including a heartfelt letter from Long right before he was deployed as a soldier in Germany’s army. He died of wounds in a British hospital after the allied invasion of Sicily in 1943.
The film expresses the bonds that all humans have, despite what the feeling of the moment, political anxieties and even war may try to sever. Dortch sees her grandfather and grandmother as being examples of how to face challenges and maneuver with grace past adversity.
Owens was also a resident of the Michigan Garden Apartments created by Julius Rosenwald that were featured in the film.