Jesse Owens wowed the world when he shattered Olympic records by winning four track and field gold medals in the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. Now one of the gold medals has been placed on the auction block, raising concerns from the International Olympic Committee because, according to the organization, it is “a part of a world heritage,” reports the Los Angeles Times.
Owens, who passed away in 1980, reportedly gifted one of the gold medals to his longtime friend and legendary tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. The medal, which had been in the possession of Robinson’s widow, Elaine Plaines, is now being put up for auction by SCP Auctions of Laguna Niguel.
Dan Inler, vice president of SCP, defends his move to auction the invaluable piece of history whom many argue should be in a museum, told the L.A. Times, “We reached out to the family of Jesse Owens as soon as we were first contacted about the medal,” Inler contends. “Out of unmitigated respect it was imperative to us and to our consignor that they be immediately informed of the decision.”
IOC President Thomas Bach, however, feels that the medal’s significance is more than just an Olympic win. He told the Associated Press, that the medal is “a part of world heritage” that has “an importance far beyond the sporting achievements of Jesse Owens. To put this up for an auction is, for me, a very difficult decision [to accept].”
Owens achieved his wins during Adolph Hitler’s rule over Nazi Germany. After Owens stupefied the event’s spectators with his skills, Hitler shook the hands of all of the Olympic winners except for Owens; Hitler wouldn’t shake Owens’ hands because he felt the Black man was inferior to Whites.
Even worse, President Franklin D. Roosevelt never sent Owens a congratulatory telegram or an invite to the White House after his tremendous display at the Summer Olympics. Since 1936 was a presidential election year, Roosevelt was afraid he’d lose the Southern votes if he paid any attention to Owens.
The medal that will be auctioned off is one of four whose whereabouts are known.
Experts predict that the auction of the coveted medal could fetch as much as $1 million, and a portion of it will go to charity. Meanwhile, Imler is keeping hope alive that the medal will wind up in what he feels should be its rightful place.
Imler told the L.A. Times, “Whether this medal is purchased by a private individual or an institution, SCP Auctions and our consignor share in the feeling that the ideal place for Jesse Owens’ gold medal is on display in a museum, where it can be shared with the public and perpetuate Owens’ inspiring legacy.”