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Visitors tour the Jesse Owens Museum in Danville, which is open 7 days a week and by appointment.

Visitors tour the Jesse Owens Museum in Danville, which is open 7 days a week and by appointment.
James and Nancy Pinion, who have been stewards of the Jesse Owens Memorial Park and Museum since its dedication in 1996, have seen their fair share of ups and downs in attendance throughout the years. “We see anywhere from 25,000 to 90,000 visitors a year come through our doors,” Nancy, who serves as Director of the museum, said, “with a big increase during the Summer Olympics every four years.” The museum experienced an inevitable decrease in attendance during the most recent Olympics, which were held in Tokyo, Japan in 2021, due to lockdowns and closures across the country. Ruth Owens, the late wife of Jesse, famously said, “Jesse comes alive every four years,” in reference to the Olympic Games years, which has rung true in years past. 
Born in Oakville in 1913 as the last of ten children, Jesse spent some of his most formative years in Lawrence County learning how to read and write and how to plant and harvest the fields around his home in order to help support his sharecropping family. During these early years, Jesse also started to develop his running style and love for track and field that would ultimately lead to him becoming one of the greatest Olympians of all time. Stand in front of the entrance to the museum and stare out over the horizon and it will not take long to picture a young Jesse running through open cotton fields and in between plots of trees with the wind at his back. This is what Jacki Telesford, who was on a charter tour bus trip from Huntsville, described as she stood looking out on the memorial. “This is such a good learning experience for people of any age. I am in awe, and it is so inspirational because nobody would have believed that a champion came from this,” she said, before making an attempt at beating Jesse’s long jump record of 26 feet 5 ¼ inches. She came up just short. 
As the museum rebounds from several Covid-induced down years, there are a few upcoming events that will hopefully draw a crowd. The first is a book signing set to take place on November 17th at 11 a.m. featuring Wayne Flynt and his new book Afternoons with Harper Lee, which is set to be published this month. Flynt, who is a retired Southern historian and educator from Auburn University, had the opportunity to spend more time than almost anybody else with Harper Lee at her assisted living home prior to her passing in 2016. Rick Bragg, bestselling author of twelve books on the American South, said, “For sixty-four long afternoons, Wayne Flynt and Harper Lee sat and talked away the day, revisiting the subjects of sharecroppers and old courthouses and busy New York streets and wider world. Flynt wrote down those memories and offers them to us in a true open window into Harper Lee.” 
Another event of interest is still yet to be scheduled, but will be sure to attract the dendrophilia, or “love of trees,” in all of us. When Jesse won his four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics, he received four oak tree saplings from Germany to be planted on his return to the United States. Although there is still debate on the topic, there is thought to be only one oak tree remaining from Owens’ haul of acorns. It towers over Rhodes High School in Cleveland, Ohio, and a historically-minded arborist has been carefully collecting its acorns for years in hopes to plant one at the Jesse Owens Park and Museum. “We are excited to hopefully plant one of the saplings from Jesse’s original tree in the park when the season is ready,” Nancy said. 
The Jesse Owens Museum is located at 7019 County Road 203 in Danville and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays, and by appointment. For more information, contact 256-974-3636 or visit the Jesse Owens Memorial Park website.
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