Notice, centered in the picture above, five African-American jockeys from the Coney Island Jockey Club (1891). Top athletes in their sport and time, they represent Kentucky Derby wins, and numerous other stakes wins across America. Anthony "Black Daemon" Hamilton (sitting), Isaac Murphy (middle row, left), Willie Simms (middle, right), Shelby "Pike" Barnes (top row, center) and Chippie Ray (top row, right).
These five men only represent a handful of the prominent African-American men making a living as professional jockeys at the end of the nineteenth century. In fact, of the 15 jockeys to mount up for the first Kentucky Derby (1975), thirteen of them were African-Americans. The first jockey to win three Kentucky Derbies and the youngest ever winner of a Kentucky Derby? Both African-American. Many of these men would continue to remain successful after their jockey days finding success as horse trainers, owners and even as a bookie.
First, check out the latest edition of the Kentucky Derby, especially if you have never watched a horse race before! Then, look over the resources and answer the discussion questions in each section:
Famous Jockeys Below you will find links to short biographies on three important jockeys and videos about two others. Simplified biographical summaries are provided in the reference document. Be sure to watch the final video entitled "African American Jockeys" for a short overview of the many accomplishments of black jockeys in the equine industry.
Discussion Questions: 1. Outline the accomplishments of three of the jockeys. Provide more details than available in the biographical summary document.
2. What stands out to you the most about these stories? What part should these men play in history?
Historical Notes The links below offer a more developed picture of the larger horse industry history around the Commonwealth. Explore KY is an interactive website featuring information provided on those little brown historical markers and includes a map and primary source images. Kentucky Association offers a brief description of the first horse track in Lexington and includes primary source images. Keeneland: National Register provides a brief history into the background of the Keeneland race track in Lexington where live racing is held two months a year. Kentucky Derby History is a link to the official Kentucky Derby website with a good deal of information detailing its history. Includes information about winners, African-Americans, women, traditions, and fashion. The Keeneland Library video details the efforts being undertaken to preserve the newspapers chronicling equine racing.
Legacy Below, you will find information about the transition that occurred within the horse industry heading into the twentieth century and the lasting legacy of African-Americans that may be found to this day.
Discussion Questions: 4. Describe the loss that African-Americans suffered within the horse industry.
5. What is being done around Lexington to help preserve the memory of these athletes?
Additional Resources Here you will find more information if you would like to continue your exploration of the topic. There is a Lexington Public Library documentary about the African-American Cemetery No. 2 in Lexington and a more in depth look at African-American jockeys provided by KET. Lastly, six books are referenced (in no particular order) for more in depth reading. Enjoy!