Edited Keeneland Release – Keeneland Library is highlighting the lives and careers of 80 African American horsemen and women from the mid-1800s to the present in its new exhibit, The Heart of the Turf: Racing’s Black Pioneers, which opens today, Thursday, Feb. 23 and runs through Thursday, Aug. 31. The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, offers a deep exploration into the lives of African Americans in racing and their contributions to the Thoroughbred industry.
“Keeneland is honored to present The Heart of the Turf: Racing’s Black Pioneers, which exemplifies our mission to preserve racing’s rich history and, in this case, documents the life and work of African Americans through more than 150 years of our sport,” Keeneland President and CEO Shannon Arvin said. “We are proud of the research undertaken through a collaboration between Keeneland Library and Lexington historian Yvonne Giles, who consulted on the exhibit, to showcase the significant impact of African Americans on Thoroughbred racing and the history of Lexington. Efforts are already underway to expand the reach of this exhibit beyond our grounds through educational programs in partnership with local schools and grassroots community groups.”
The exhibit employs an engaging mix of interpretive panels, rare photographs, never-before-displayed artifacts, original artwork and video interviews to chronicle and bring to life the involvement of African Americans in the racing industry. The resulting walk-through experience features more than 100 historical photographs from Keeneland Library collections, commissioned artwork by noted folk artist LaVon Williams and loaned artwork from the Kentucky Derby Museum, International Museum of the Horse and private collections. Other contributors include Phoenix Rising Lexington, Cross Gate Gallery, Catherine Clay Neal, Hank and Mary Brockman, Coleman D. Callaway III and Kirk Hoefling.
“The Heart of the Turf: Racing’s Black Pioneers showcases select stories from the countless African Americans who forged their way in Kentucky and beyond from the era of slavery to the present, shaping today’s racing industry,” Keeneland Library Exhibit Curator Roda Ferraro said. “Black grooms, farriers, stable managers, trainers, owners, stewards and jockeys passed their hard-earned knowledge and skills down through the generations. By sharing their personal stories, past and present, we hope to highlight not only their triumphs but also examine their obstacles to continue conversations about diversity in racing.”
The exhibit is rooted in the long history of racing in Lexington. The East End neighborhood near downtown was the site of the Kentucky Association track, which operated from the late 1820s through 1933 and held the first runnings of such Keeneland races as the Blue Grass, later revived at Keeneland (now the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass-G1, which will be run April 8). The East End also was home to many Black horsemen and their families, such as jockeys Isaac Burns Murphy and Jimmy Winkfield, trainer Ansel Williamson and trainer/owner Edward Dudley Brown – all members of the Racing Hall of Fame. Hundreds of othersbought homes, built businesses and raised families in surrounding neighborhoods.
In addition to those well-known names in racing lore, the scope of the exhibit spotlights many unsung African American heroes across the country: brothers Harry, Joseph and Raleigh Colston Sr., whose multigenerational legacy as jockeys, trainers and owners includes such legendary racehorses as Longfellow, Ten Broeck, Kingfisher and Leonatus; Albert Cooper, who worked his way from stable hand to foreman of the seven-time Preakness Stakes-winning stable of R. Wyndham Walden; and Sylvia Bishop, the first African-American woman licensed to train horses in the U.S.
The exhibit chronicles and connects the contributions of these horsemen and -women of the past to the present generation, including jockeys such as Kendrick Carmouche, DeShawn Parker and Marlon St. Julien; owner Greg Harbut; and Keeneland sales ringmen Ron Hill, Cordell Anderson, Dudley Sidney and Francis Carrol Wilson, all of whom are highlighted in the exhibit.
“Visitors will find this exhibit very informative, particularly when it comes to Lexington’s historic East End and the rich culture of the African American horsemen who lived there,” Keeneland Library Director Becky Ryder said. “We see it as a tremendous educational tool that can be used long after the conclusion of this exhibit in August. Keeneland Library is already making plans to adapt the components into a mobile exhibit designed to travel to schools, libraries and other community and industry organizations. The unique outreach opportunities are very exciting.”
For more information about The Heart of the Turf: Racing’s Black Pioneers, please visit Keeneland.com/library.
Founded in 1939, Keeneland Library is one of the world’s largest repositories of information related to Thoroughbred racing, housing nearly 30,000 books, more than 1 million photographic negatives and prints, and thousands of newspaper and magazine articles about all aspects of the equine industry. At the globally renowned public research institution, Library staff has assisted thousands of journalists, writers, academics, historians, racing fans and others with research.
The Library is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. To reach the Library, enter Keeneland at Gate 1 (Man o’ War Blvd.) on Keeneland Blvd. and take the first right on Entertainment Ct. The Library is to the left of the Keene Barn and Entertainment Center.
Library Lecture Series, Keeneland Crafted event enhance exhibit
In conjunction with the exhibit, Keeneland Library will host several ticketed events in the coming months. Proceeds from these events will benefit the Keeneland Library Foundation, which funds the Library’s preservation efforts. For more information on these events, please visit Keeneland.com/library.
Two installments of the Library Lecture Series will feature books related to the exhibit whose authors conducted research at Keeneland Library.
On May 11, Katherine Mooney will discuss Isaac Murphy: The Rise and Fall of a Black Jockey.
On June 22, Mark Shrager will talk about The First Kentucky Derby: Thirteen Black Jockeys, One Shady Owner and the Little Red Horse That Wasn’t Supposed to Win.
Both programs will be held at the Library from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Admission is $10. The author’s presentation will be followed by a reception and book signing. A limited number of copies of featured books will be available for purchase.
The Library Lecture Series events also will be livestreamed on Keeneland’s YouTube channel.
Also in May, Keeneland Library will host a Keeneland Crafted multi-course tasting experience inspired by historic race track menus from Library archives.