PHOENIX, Ariz. — Olympic hero Jesse Owens was the target of a 1956 FBI investigation that included interviews with dozens of people about such personal areas as Owens' sex life and background, and credit checks to determine if he was "a loyal American," a Phoenix newspaper says.
The Arizona Republic reported in its Saturday editions that the investigation was ordered personally by then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
The investigation is outlined in documents obtained from the FBI by the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act.
The documents were declassified after Owens, a Phoenix resident, died of lung cancer in Tucson in March, 1980 at age 66.
The FBI suspected that Owens might have been involved in subversive or un-American activities, according to the documents. However, all Hoover's agents ever found was that:
--Owens' name appeared on one occasion in the Daily Worker, a Communist Party newspaper.
--Owens was listed in a Michigan newspaper as a member of the "Committee to Seek Unity of Racial Groups," which Hoover believed was a subversive organization.
--Owens sent greetings in 1937, a year after winning four gold medals at the Olympic Games in Berlin, to the National Negro Congress, which Hoover also regarded as an un-American organization.
"Oh, my God," said a shocked Ruth Owens when asked about the investigation. "My husband is resting in his grave, so he can't speak for himself. But I followed him all over, and I know he was loyal to America. He loved his family and his country.
"Jesse was a good man. He always tried to do what was right. But he went to his grave being dogged. His crime was that he was black."
The FBI documents show that criminal-background investigations and credit checks were also run on Owens' wife, his parents, his three daughters, his brothers and his sisters.