African-American Sports Heroes

African-American athletes broke color barriers.
African-American athletes broke color barriers.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Jesse Owens grew up in a poor family in Alabama, but because he earned good grades in school he was able to attend Ohio State University. He competed in track and field events and broke several national records.

Owens was selected to go to the Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, in 1936. Adolf Hitler, Germany's ruler at the time, believed that his people were superior to all others in the world, but Jessie Owens showed that Hitler was wrong. Owens won all of his events: the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, the long jump, and the 4x100-meter relay.

In the early part of the 1900s, two African-Americans stood out in the world of boxing -- Jack Johnson and Joe Louis. Johnson was the first African-American heavyweight champion, and he paved the way for other African-American boxers to follow in his footsteps.

One of those was Joe Louis. In 1934 Louis knocked out Jack Kracken to become the heavyweight champion. Louis, also known as "The Brown Bomber," handled himself with class and dignity.

Jackie Robinson was a great baseball player. He hit 137 home runs, stole 197 bases, scored 947 runs, and had a career batting average of .311 over his ten major-league seasons. But statistics cannot measure the great contribution Robinson made to baseball. He was the first African-American to play in the major leagues.

In 1947, with the help of the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson made his major-league debut and became a hero in the African-American community. Amid insults, he let his bat, glove, legs, and heart do the talking. He always played hard and always showed the joy and pride he felt. Robinson's actions showed the world that African-Americans could survive anywhere with courage and dignity.

Satchel Paige was a great baseball player and a legend in the Negro Leagues for his fantastic pitching and funny antics. Paige's main goal was to get into the major leagues. In 1948, he finally got his chance when the Cleveland Indians needed an extra pitcher to help them advance to the World Series. Paige joined the team and indeed helped the Indians win the World Series.

Muhammad Ali was one of the best boxers the world has ever seen. He won the world heavyweight title three times, but Ali opened our eyes beyond the ring. He was a man of strong beliefs, and in 1968 he refused to enlist in the Army to go to Vietnam because he did not believe in killing.

Ali had an outgoing personality and always spoke his mind. Today, Ali is well-respected. He showed the world that African-Americans with honorable beliefs can prevail, even when faced with obstacles.

Willie Mays was a fantastic baseball player. He was an all-around athlete who had a great batting average and could hit for power, run, throw, and field. Willie Mays did it all, and he finished his career in the early 1970s with 660 home runs.

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