Jesse Owens

As the summer sun rose on Wednesday morning (July 1st) Christopher Columbus was banished from the courtyard at City Hall. What also could be replaced is the name of our city, but that could take years.

The questions now being asked are, what should replace either?

One answer is not so difficult, the other far more challenging. But perhaps necessary if “Columbus” wants to remain a Midwest boomtown and attract young people, who have been trending more and more progressive even before Trump.

City Council President Shannon Hardin on Twitter has asked for suggestions regarding what to replace the Columbus statue with. He specifically said “art,” not a historical person.

Tasked with replacing the statue is the Columbus Art Commission, and Hardin has promised it will be a “public process.” Hopefully that will be the case when it comes to changing our police department.

“Council is focused on eradicating systemic racism, police misconduct and social injustice through every means possible,” wrote Hardin in the tweet announcing suggestions to replace the Columbus statue.

Whatever replaces statue very well could end up being art. But if it were to be a historical figure, we have one in mind. Central Ohio is famous for its athletes who, as sports pundits love to say, conquered the world. There’s Archie Griffin, Jack Nicklaus, Buster Douglas, Woody Hayes and many more.

But one Central Ohio athlete legend not only conquered the world but white supremacy as well. His success in the arena is so mind-boggling it cannot be understated. Yet our short attentions spans have pushed his story to the dustbin of history, and our young protesters need a refresher.

That’s the story of Olympic and Ohio State track star Jesse Owens. He broke three world records and tied a fourth in a span of 45 minutes during a 1935 Big Ten track meet at Michigan University (of all places). But it gets far better.

He would go on to defy Hitler at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. Yes, Hitler, as many of us older Buckeye fans know. These were the games Hitler hoped would show the world the white athlete was superior than any other, so to prove that “Aryans” were far superior than all races.

But Jesse, who’s large sharecropper family escaped to Ohio from the segregated South, rose up from his dirt-poor beginnings to show the greatest white supremacist of all time he was dead wrong by winning four gold medals.

Jesse showed Hitler that Aryan superiority was a myth. Another myth is that Hitler refused to shake Jesse’s hand after he won his first gold medal. But Jesse’s family told sports journalist Jeremy Schaap that Hitler indeed did not shake his hand but instead slightly bowed his head to Jesse from a distance.

As incredible and disturbing as this may sound, at least Hitler acknowledged Jesse when you consider how he was treated by fellow (white) Americans when he returned following the Olympics. President Roosevelt never publicly acknowledged Jesse’s triumphs and only white Olympians were invited to the White House in 1936.

“Hitler didn’t snub me – it was our president who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram,” said Jesse at the time.

Nearly a century later this sounds familiar today. Some of our police sworn to protect and serve are instead administering racist-inspired rejection and abuse.

This Free Press writer feels Jesse Owens should at least be considered. Was his graceful and explosive athletic prowess not an expression of artistic genius?

“Jesse Owens remains a favorite son of the state of Ohio and a legendary Ohio State athlete. We admire the courage Owens displayed winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics and demolishing the Nazi propaganda machine in the process,” said Jerry Emig, Associate Athletics Director for OSU. “Ohio State is proud to have a beautiful statue of his likeness and a stadium that bears his name. However, we believe any selection of a replacement statue at City Hall should be made by the citizens of the city and their elected representatives without our influence.”

With the statue gone, the next major question is looming like a large ominous shadow which will refuse to go away until there is change. Afterall, in his own words the Italian-explorer in the year 1500 wrote to Queen Isabella telling her he was trafficking Native American childrenas young at 9 from the Americas, among other atrocities.

Should we also banish our city’s name?

Some have tried, albeit tongue-in-cheek. But what was no joke is when Tyler Woodbridge started his petitionto rename our city “Flavortown,” he was threatened but has also garnered 120,000 signatures, which portends well for any future citizen ballot initiative.

Economist and OSU John Glenn College of Public Affairs professor Ned Hill says he’s not a fan of changing the name of our city, but believes “there would be relatively small direct financial expenses – changing signs, stationery, business cards, etc.”

“The Blue Jackets, Clippers, and Crew would have to figure out where they are from,” added Hill.

The bigger problem post change would be re-capturing our brand recognition, he said.

“The second, and much larger, set of costs would be in terms of brand equity, or recognition, that is lost, especially in business location activity. Columbus is a second-tier region in the US, and it is constantly in competition with Nashville, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Charlotte, for recognition and mind share. This can hurt when it comes to marketing for business expansions and relocation and in the visitor-destination and meetings industries.

“Web searches would become interesting – what search terms would you use? We would become the city or region formerly known as Columbus. The third set of costs would be triggered by re-branding, re-labeling, and re-naming and publicizing the switch. In the end the financial or economic implications will be dwarfed by emotional and political benefits and losses.”

Hill says if our city were to change its name, he suggested “Franklinton” or “Franklintown,” as others have.

“I guess we are lucky that America is named for the guy who made the map, not the guy who landed on a Caribbean Island in a search for a short route to China,” he said.