CHICAGO (CBS) — The name of 1936 Olympic hero Jesse Owens will soon grace a Chicago Public School, just months after the old Owens Academy was merged into another school and lost its identity.
The input at two community meetings was unanimous. So was the vote Wednesday to rename Gompers Elementary, the West Pullman neighborhood school into which the old Owens Academy was merged over the summer. The change applies to two buildings named for Samuel Gompers, an English-born labor leader.
Owens’ family requested the change and was on hand for the vote.
“He would be proud of the community,” said daughter Gloria Owens Hemphill. “”He would have been proud of us for ‘carrying the torch,’ and making this happen. I think he’d be very pleased to have his name attached to something that serves kids.”
Owens grew up in Cleveland, and paid his way through The Ohio State University because the school did not offer scholarships to track athletes at the time.
He won four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, much to the consternation of German dictator Adolf Hitler, who had hoped to use the 1936 Games to affirm his belief in Aryan superiority.
After graduation, Owens became the citywide playground director in Cleveland. But he soon relocated to Chicago, became the sports specialist for the Illinois State Youth Commission, was a director of the Chicago Boys Club and devoted much of his time to underprivileged youth.
Owens was awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976 and posthumously received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1990. He died in 1980.
The Board of Education must approve the name change, and is expected to do so at its Oct. 23 meeting.