Have you ever been offended by lantern-holding jockeys found situated on lawns throughout the suburbs, thinking they’re racist? Most have lumped the statue, known as Jocko, in with the mammy caricature and feel insulted when they encounter one.
“We used to kick them over and try to knock the heads off, run over them” said Michael McBride of Too Black, Too Fast, who has taken up the cause of drawing attention to the history of black jockeys through his artwork.
He went on to tell the story of what the statue really means:
“We’re gonna help you dispel the myth of the jockey statue. It’s called the ‘Story of Jocko.’ Jocko was George Washington’s stable boy. When George Washington went across the Delaware River, when it was very cold, he along with his soldiers, he had Jocko to stand there with a lantern and hold the horses till they returned.
They ended up staying longer than they thought they were gonna be. They came back and Jocko was still standing there, frozen, still holding the horses and still holding the lantern. George Wahsington was so moved, he had the artist to do a concrete sculpture of Jocko and he had his friends all have these things done, too.
Then, if you fast forward to during the underground railroad, when you went to a house that had this jockey there and the lantern was on, it was the safe houses for the underground railroad. Lack of knowledge made us think it was a degrading thing, but it’s not.”
Maybe you already knew this or maybe you didn’t – or maybe you don’t believe it, but it was compelling enough for me to listen to stories of the history of black jockeys, during Derby time, from someone so passionate about it. And there’s more. Check back for an in-depth look at the role blacks played in equestrianism and how lucrative a sport it can be, straight from a black former jockey. –gerald radford