The legacy of Jesse Owens, the celebrated four-time Olympic gold medalist, was honored today by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and memorialized with a mural created by students from The Duke Ellington School of The Arts.
Students from the Museum Studies Department at Duke Ellington collaborated to design the 15’ X 15’ mural on the wall of The Reeves Center in the historic U Street corridor. In partnership with the DC Office of Motion Picture and Television Development (MPTD) and DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH), the design was based on the students’ interpretation of Owens’ story and brought to life by Duke Ellington alumnus and resident artist, Mark Walker and Duke Ellington Museum Studies senior Willard Johnson.
“It is an honor to commemorate the life and story of a true American hero who exemplified courage, determination and excellence,” stated Mayor Muriel Bowser. “I am proud of the talented students of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts who designed this mural and brilliantly captured the heart of Jesse Owens’ inspiring story.”
The son of a sharecropper and grandson of a slave, Jesse Owens’ stunning achievement of winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany made him an unforgettable part of world history. The Games were being held in Nazi Germany, where Dictator Adolf Hitler espoused that German “Aryan” people were the dominant race. But the outcome of the Games told another story: Jesse Owens became the first American track and field athlete to win four gold medals in a single Olympiad. During a time of deep-rooted segregation, he affirmed that individual excellence – rather than race or nation – distinguishes an individual. The entire world took note of his remarkable achievement, one which remains without precedent. His record number of gold medal wins stood for 48 years.
Of the collaboration, Marta Stewart, Founding Chair of the Museum Studies Department at Duke Ellington stated, “What a great opportunity for our students in museum studies at Duke Ellington to collaborate with Focus Features to produce a mural in honor of the admirable life and work of Jesse Owens. The project allowed students to tap into many of the skills they have practiced during their tenure here at Ellington: research, organization, logical reasoning, creative thinking and more. Thank you Focus Features for helping to bring a practical application to our students' learning experience and trusting our students to successfully get the job done.”
“The Office of Motion Picture and Television Development is honored to have collaborated with the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts on this important project that celebrates the life of an extraordinary champion who rose from being the son of a sharecropper and grandson of a slave to an international phenomenon,” stated Angie M. Gates, Director of the DC Office of Motion Picture and Television Development. “I applaud the gifted Duke Ellington student artists who designed this beautiful tribute based solely on their interpretation of Jesse Owens.”
“The arts provide an outlet for creative expression as well as an opportunity for deeper understanding of humanity,” said Lisa Richards Toney, Interim Director of DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. “In creating this mural, the very talented students at Duke Ellington learned about one of the greatest athletes in history, and then transformed that knowledge into a work of art.”
About The Duke Ellington School of The Arts
The Duke Ellington School of the Arts was established in 1974 and remains the sole DC public high school to offer a dual curriculum encompassing professional arts training and academic enrichment, in preparation for college and careers in the arts.
By naming one of his jazz bands The Washingtonians, Duke Ellington made his home part of his persona. DC philanthropist and avid art collector Peggy Cooper Cafritz and the late dancer and choreographer Mike Malone returned the favor, building this school to house the creative soul of the District, and to reflect the rich cultural diversity of the United States. From the beginning, public and private partnerships have supported the school, which in 2000 evolved into the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Project (DESAP), which includes the DC Public Schools, the Ellington Fund, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and George Washington University.