Jesse Owens seemed sure to win the long jump at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, Germany. Just the year before, he had set three world records in one day. He was the record holder for the running broad jump with 26 feet 8 1/4 inches—a record that would stand for 25 years.
As he walked to the long jump pit, however, Owens saw a tall, blue-eyed, blond German taking practice jumps in the 26 foot range. Owens was nervous. He was aware of the tension created with his presence. He knew the Nazis' desire was to prove Aryan “superiority,” especially over the blacks.
The pressure was overwhelming, and on his first jump Owens inadvertently leaped from several inches beyond the takeoff board. Rattled, he fouled on the second attempt, too. He was only one foul away from being eliminated.
At this point, the tall German approached Owens and introduced himself as Luz Long. Then an amazing event took place. The black son of a sharecropper and the white model of Nazi manhood chatted in view of the entire stadium. What were they talking about?
Since the qualifying distance was only 23 feet 5 1/2 inches, Long suggested making a mark several inches before the takeoff board and jumping from there, just to play it safe. It worked!
Owens qualified easily. In the finals, he set an Olympic record and earned the second of four gold medals during the 1936 Olympics. The first person to congratulate Owens was Luz Long—in full view of Adolf Hitler.
Owens never saw Long again, for Long was killed in World War II. “You could melt down all the medals and cups I have,” Owens later wrote, “and they wouldn't be plating on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Luz Long.” A final letter Long wrote to Jesse Owens reads, in part, “Someday find my son . . . tell him about how things can be between men on this Earth.”
Stories like that remind us that battle against racism is fought with courage and a willingness to see all people as created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). The Gospel is the ultimate antidote to racism—because racism at its core is a spiritual issue. In Ephesians 2:14 Paul writes about the unifying effect of the Cross, “For [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier the dividing wall of hostility.” The two groups in the passage are the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul explains that Jesus has brought peace between these two (often-opposed) groups by making them one people—the church unified by one Savior and one Spirit. Also in Galatians 3:28 we read, “There is neither Jew nor Gentiles, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus’ solution to racism is not to have each ethnic group politely stay in their own space. His solution is to bring us together and overcome our differences by the love of Christ as expressed in the Cross of Calvary (John 15:12). Billy Graham once said, “The closer the people of all races get to Christ and His cross, the closer they will get to one another.” -DM