The history and background of the African American jockey is a primarily unknown to those outside of the industry. However, the history of the horse racing sport is imprinted with diversity and the success of African American horseman. Several artists have joined together to create a multimedia project entitled “Too Black, Too Fast,” which will uncover the memories that were lost and hidden for many years.

Too Black, Too Fast is the “heartfelt passion” of Michael J. McBride, an artist who has been involved with the project. In 1991, McBride had a conversation with Yusef Harris, which led an employee from Churchill Downs contacting McBride due to his extensive knowledge with African American literature. Soon after, McBride was contacted by Harris to discuss knowledge of the African American jockey. Unsurprisingly, McBride knew little of this project and sought out to discover what still today is little known history.

African Americans became heavily involved with the sport of horse racing beginning around the year 1607, and dominated the sport until 1910. Many of the riders were slaves, very small in size, and teenagers. Perfecting the techniques of horsemanship is a challenging task, which is interesting due to the fact that around that time the intelligence and abilities of Blacks were highly questioned.

“Landowners wagered money, tobacco crops, deeds to farms, slaves, or just about anything else of value” states McBride. “The best master and slave teams were so successful that they resorted to trickery to get opponents to race against them.” One significant story involves the seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson.

One of the most amazing aspects of the jockey/slavemaster relationship at the time is that “societal and racial” lines were blurred.

Many of the jockeys enjoyed the good life, and slave masters had a high level of trust with the enslaved jockeys. Many of the jockeys were able to travel to different races, and carry large sums of money that they had won alone, which would normally be forbidden in that point in America History. However, eventually the Jim Crow laws would successfully deny African American jockeys the opportunity to compete and the history was lost. Most of the Black jockey history takes place around Tennessee and its bordering states.

The Too Black, Too Fast project hopes to reclaim the history that was lost so many years ago. The project is a multimedia project which consists of paintings, sculptures, movies, original music, and much more. Major players of the project include McBride, Derell Stinson, former NFL Player George Nock, as well as Carolyn McDonald who hopes to create a movie detailing the history which she hopes Morgan Freeman will star in.

The exhibit will be on display in the African American Cultural Center Gallery Exhibit until April.


Photo: Too Black, Too Fast “Leading By a Nose”