Hidden history of America's successful black jockey's

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ORANGE COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Name the sport in America, and African-American athletes excelled, many times winning against great odds in the era of segregation.

The same could be said for horse racing.

You may be surprised at the hidden history behind the success of black people in the racing industry.

"I think the first three Kentucky Derby races were won by black jockey's," said Zann Nelson, a self-described history investigator and writer who organized an exhibit currently on display at Montpelier on black jockeys.

She says the display tells the story of the success black jockeys enjoyed at the end of the 19th century.

Thirteen of the 15 jockeys in the first Kentucky Derby in 1875 were African Americans.

"In the 19th century into the early 20th century, black jockeys won every single one of the Triple Crown races," Nelson said.

But racism hit racetracks where black jockeys were the kings of the Sport of Kings, and when Jim Crow segregation laws were enforced, it stopped them right in their tracks.

Nelson said it changed the entire sport.

"It was a question of oppression, keeping African-Americans down as achievers, people who were truly talented skilled and successful," she said.

One of the big names in racing was Virginia's own Edward Washington, who worked at Montpelier.

Elizabeth Chew of Montpelier says the Madison estate played a role in hiring black people in the racing industry.

"One of the horses bred and raised here, Battleship, was the first American horse to win the Grand National in England and his major handler was an African-American gentleman named Edward Washington," Chew said.

Pastor Frank D. Lewis of Madison County knew Washington when he was a kid.

"At that time, we knew him as an avid horseman and I think it's great what Zann is doing to bring all of this out so we can really see the good rich history that was in African-Americans who were horsemen at that time," he said.

Nelson hopes her research changes minds.

"These stories have not been shared before the African-American community know certainly the descendants knew these exemplary people," she said. "But the wider audience has not known and I think when they do know it will change their impressions and their ways of thinking."



 
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