WAS JESSE OWENS AN 'UNCLE TOM'?
University of Wales Institute Cardiff
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This study focuses on the accusation from Harry Edwards of Jesse Owens being an Uncle Tom. These allegations have also been made by many black athletes particularly during the 1960s. Yet there has been little research that has examined whether or not Owens actually was an Uncle Tom and therefore no conclusive decision has been reached. In view of the tarnished reputation of a sporting icon, this failure to examine the evidence is an omission. This study uses the metaphor of a civil court case to present a trial of Jesse Owens. Key texts such as William J. Baker "Jesse Owens: An American Life," relevant studies and online sources such as search engines and databases have been used to generate two arguments, the case for the plaintiff and the case for the defendant. Both arguments put forward strong evidence as to whether or not Owens was an Uncle Tom. The case of the plaintiff uses a breakdown of Buckner’s definition of an Uncle Tom to present the evidence. The three sufficient conditions from the definition are (i) Owens must have aligned himself with another ideological group or 'race,' (ii) Owens must have advanced his status, (iii) Owens must have gained socially, politically and financially. Strong evidence for all three conditions must be present for Owens to be an Uncle Tom. The case for the defendant highlights four key arguments (i) Owens’ Olympism views, (ii) Owens’ views towards racial injustice, (iii) Owens was confused and unaware, (iv) Owens does not meet all the criteria of an Uncle Tom. The judge’s summary discusses these arguments and on the balance of probabilities a verdict is reached and concludes whether Owens is an Uncle Tom or not. This study found that Owens is guilty of many personality flaws however there is insufficient evidence to condemn Owens of being an Uncle Tom.