Did Jesse Owens want to shake Hitler's hand and get their photo together and, if so, did Hitler really snub him?

I'm asking this based on a movie I'm watching.

  • I am not entirely sure whether sports.SE or skeptics.SE is a better site for this question.
    – Martin
    Jul 4, 2016 at 13:22

2 Answers 2


Jesse Owens was snubbed by who?

Everyone knows that at the 1936 Olympics Hitler snubbed Jesse Owens. As the story goes, after Owens won one gold medal, Hitler, incensed, stormed out of Olympic Stadium so he wouldn't have to congratulate Owens on his victory.

The facts are simple. Hitler did not congratulate Owens, but that day he didn't congratulate anybody else either, not even the German winners. As a matter of fact, Hitler didn't congratulate anyone after the first day of the competition. That first day he had shaken hands with all the German victors, but that had gotten him in trouble with the members of the Olympic Committee. They told him that to maintain Olympic neutrality, he would have to congratulate everyone or no one. Hitler chose to honor no one.

Hitler did snub a black American athlete, but it was Cornelius Johnson, not Jesse Owens. It happened the first day of the meet. Just before Johnson was to be decorated, Hitler left the stadium. A Nazi spokesman explained that Hitler's exit had been pre-scheduled, but no one believes that. - Adolf Hitler, Jesse Owens and the Olympics Myth of 1936.

Hitler seems to have snubbed both men, but Cornelius Johnson was snubbed first.

Upon his return to the USA, Jesse Owens had this to say:

"When I came back to my native country, after all the stories about Hitler, I couldn't ride in the front of the bus," Owens told ESPN. "I had to go to the back door. I couldn't live where I wanted. I wasn't invited to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn't invited to the White House to shake hands with the president, either." - Did Hitler Really Snub Jesse Owens at 1936 Berlin Olympics?

Jesse Owens deserved better!

For those interested, here is a YouTube documentary on it: Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

  • Thanks. This is a good answer but it's a little confusing. The first paragraph and the last block quote seem to answer "yes this is true" but the bold line seems to say "no this is false"...? Unless Owens was lying in the last quote I take it that this is true, but if you could provide clarification I'd appreciate it.
    – Hack-R
    Jul 4, 2016 at 4:22
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    The way I would understand it is that Hitler snubbed both men, but Cornelius Johnson was snubbed first.
    – Ken Graham
    Jul 4, 2016 at 4:26
  • As far as I know Hitler do no it congratulates personally with athlete who were not German. Some papers shows also that Owens and Hitler greeted each other
    – Ale
    Jul 4, 2016 at 5:52
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    "Hitler seems to have snubbed both men" I don't think that is supported by your quotes. Whether or not Hitler snubbed Johnson depends on what exactly you think that "snubbed" means and whether "I'm only going to shake hands with Germans" counts a snub to any specific non-German person. But I don't think "Fine, I won't shake anybody's hand" can be seen as a snub to Owens. Germany only won 23% of the medals at the games so, even on that first day, Hitler presumably didn't shake a lot of hands. Jul 4, 2016 at 9:22
  • I have to say that part of the confusion for me (which I still don't get) is why Jesse and any other AA athlete would want to or would be willing to shake hands with Adolf Hitler. I suppose you could say they didn't know he was the embodiment of evil, but if there's any truth to the movie "Race" then the NAACP, press, and tons of other people actually did make that extremely clear to Jesse beforehand and asked him not to go to the Olympics in protest of it. I can understand why he went anyway, but I can't understand wanting to buddy up with Hitler.
    – Hack-R
    Jul 4, 2016 at 11:46

Owens, a lifelong member of the Republican party, said

"Hitler didn't snub me - it was [FDR] who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram,"

at a Republican rally in October, 1936. You could say he was not snubbed based on his own words, though I think his words may have been a little politically motivated and not representative of his thoughts.

Also, according to Wikipedia, a journalist named Siegfried Mischner claims that Owens showed him a picture of Owens and Hitler shaking hands hoping the journalist would "change the accepted version of history" of that day. This, however, is very unlikely given no photo has ever surfaced and that it contradicts some of Owens's own statements.

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  • 1
    Ethan is correct that Wiki does make this reference, but it's saying that it's something being claimed by Siegfried Mischner, a German journalist, and to Ken's point it seems extremely unlikely. If that were actually true there'd be some copy of this photo on the Internet and it would conflict with the quotes that we know come directly from Owens. I would blame Wiki's quality issues for this, but I believe a German journalist may have claimed something like that, given that he was in a position to hear rumors and it was before the Internet made the world smaller and more verifiable.
    – Hack-R
    Jul 4, 2016 at 11:38
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    @Hack-R I have corrected my answer to say that the journalist only claimed. Thank You
    – Lindstorm
    Jul 4, 2016 at 15:53
  • Thanks. So, Jesse Owens was a Republican? Update - you're right, I confirmed it from 3 sources. Apparently Owens was a staunch Republican to the very end.
    – Hack-R
    Jul 4, 2016 at 20:22
  • @Hack-R Yes, but bear in mind, I think the republican party of his day was a bit different in its political views than it was today. Somewhere along the line, the republican and democratic party switched political sides, and I think it was happening during his time period, but I am not entirely sure.
    – Lindstorm
    Jul 4, 2016 at 21:02

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