Last week, a propagated sapling was planted by Holden Forests & Gardens’ Tree Corps at James Ford Rhodes High School where Owens practiced track and field. The sapling was grown by Holden Forests & Gardens and Klyn Nurseries Inc. After years of intense stewardship from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and horticultural partners, the original tree succumbed to its natural life cycle and did not return with any spring growth in 2022. While CMSD, Holden Forest & Gardens, and CNP work with partners to memorialize the original tree, the grafted replacement has been years in the making and is ready for planting.
The Jesse Owens Olympic Oak tree is a powerful symbol of his legacy. Owens brought home four gold medals from the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin and set several Olympic and world records. As a Black competitor in Nazi Germany, his success stood as a powerful statement against Adolf Hitler’s belief in Aryan supremacy. The Olympic Committee presented Owens with four English oak saplings—which were planted in Berlin, behind his childhood home, at The Ohio State University, and at James Ford Rhodes High School where he practiced track.
Jesse Owen’s Post-Olympic History
Despite his Olympic triumph, Jesse Owens struggled against racism at home and was not invited to the White House after the 1936 Olympics. He was honored at a celebration at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, but he was required to take a freight elevator to reach the event. Jesse was welcomed home with a parade in Cleveland, famously inspiring future Olympian Harrison Dillard with a wink and a wave. He briefly worked as a playground instructor for underprivileged youth in Cleveland, ultimately becoming a playground director with Cleveland’s Parks and Recreation Department. During World War II, Owens was appointed as director of a national fitness program for African Americans. He was named Ambassador of Sports by President Eisenhower in 1955 and toured the world promoting the virtues of amateur sports programs with a particular emphasis on opportunities for underprivileged youth; he continued goodwill tours into the 1970s and 80s. Owens received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Gerald Ford in 1976.
About Cleveland Neighborhood Progress
Cleveland Neighborhood Progress is the leading community development voice in Cleveland. Since 1988 CNP has supported the work of neighborhood revitalization through direct support of the community development corporation network, catalytic real estate investments, and lending capital.
About the Cleveland Metropolitan School District
The Cleveland Metropolitan School District is the second largest public school district in Ohio. Under The Cleveland Plan, a customized blueprint for education reform in the city, the District seeks to ensure that every child and every neighborhood has access to a high-quality education. The sweeping reforms in The Plan have enabled CMSD to go from being one of the worst performing districts in the state to one of the fastest improving.
About Holden Forests & Gardens
Holden Forests & Gardens is made up of two of Northeast Ohio’s most important environmental and cultural institutions — the Holden Arboretum and Cleveland Botanical Garden — whose mission is to connect people with the wonder, beauty, and value of trees and plants, to inspire action for healthy communities. One of the largest public gardens in the country, Holden Forests & Gardens has 18,000 member households and an annual attendance of nearly 300,000 for whom we strive to provide inspirational and educational visitor experiences. For more information, visit holdenfg.org.