Civil rights icon Ambassador Andrew Young and his daughter, Paula Young Shelton, deliver a powerful oral history about a special day in Andrew’s childhood that changed him forever in Just Like Jesse Owens. In her author's note, Paula reflects on her father's childhood and this lifechanging moment.
My father, Andrew Young, is a storyteller who uses stories to teach valuable lessons. He and I wanted to share this story about his experience with Jesse Owens, and agreed the best to do so was for me to write it as Daddy told it to me, taking some artistic license with the dialogue. I’ve heard this story throughout my life, along with my siblings, Andrea, Lisa, and Bo. I have recounted it based on conversations with Daddy, as well as research.
My father grew up in a diverse neighborhood in New Orleans when there was legal segregation throughout the South and racial inequity across America. In this story, I use the term “Colored” to describe people of African descent. This term reflects the speech of the 1930s. My grandfather, who we called Baddie Boo, often told my father and his brother, Walter, that when dealing with the sickness of racism, “Don’t get mad, get smart.”
Daddie Boo took my father to the local movie theater to see newsreels of Jesse Owens running in the 1936 Olympics to show how important it is to lead by example. Adolf Hitler was eager to host the Olympics in Germany to show the world that blond, blue-eyed Aryans were the superior race. When Jesse Owens won four gold medals, he proved Hitler wrong. At the same time, Jesse showed that working harder and smarter was better than fighting.
My father used Daddie Boo’s lessons to guide his life. Even as he marched alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. to gain equal rights for Blacks and was beaten unconscious, he didn’t get angry; instead, he continued to stand up for what was right. Sixty years after he saw Jesse Owens run, Daddy worked with the leadership of the city to bring the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games to Atlanta.
--- Paula Young Shelton