Chronicles of The Black Jockeys Volume VI: Racial Hostilities in the North - When "LITTLE NIGGER" Was A Horse On The Track And The Black Jockey Spoke "MONKEY" Language

The Negro was then summoned, and Mr. Belmont, with awful majesty, raised his gavel and brought it down on top of his desk.  Bang! ‘What is your name?’  ‘John’ was the quavering answer.  Again the chairman’s gavel fell.  Bang! ‘Your last name?’  ‘Williams Sir.’  Bang! ‘Residence?’  The negro looked helplessly around.  ‘He means where do you live’ said Algernon Daingerfield.  ‘Ma home is whar my hat is’ grinned John Williams.  ‘Ah’m a flat-footed, no account loafer, an a crap-shootin son of a bitch.’  Under cover of the roar of laughter that wrecked the last semblance of dignity, Mr. Keene whispered to his nephew Daingerfield, ‘Buy me that nigger Algy, I like him.”... New York racing magnate Foxhall Keene

From 1889 through 1892, Goodwin’s Official Turf Guide, which was then the 'Bible' of racing Isaac Murphyrecords for prominent riders, listed at least fifteen black jockeys out of about fifty-six jockeys a year.  Author of The Great Black Jockeys, Edward Hotaling points out that since Goodwin did not list the race of the riders, it is almost certain that many more on the listings might have been black, since the official counts were only of those who were well known black riders.  By the mid decade between 1893 and 1898, the number of known African American riders continued to range at about a fourth or a fifth of the total.  In ten years, however, this percentage would dwindle significantly. In this segment, we will attempt to point to some of the reasons.

According to Hotaling, "the 1890s saw black jockeys enjoying a measure a freedom and fame, the envy of many whites in the country."  They stood on the verge of participating in the enormous profits being generated in racing.  Black jockeys such as Austin Curtis, Cornelius, Cato, Sewell, Dick, Albert, Chisholm, Monk, and Abe Hawkins had established a legacy on which Isaac Lewis, Billy Walker, Oliver Lewis, Isaac Murphy, and others had expanded, with domination of the Kentucky Derby and many other important races in the North.  While the Civil War had decimated many stables and much of racing in the South, Bluegrass racing in the new ‘Race Horse Region’ of Kentucky (the ‘West’), and to a lesser extent in New Orleans, was gaining steam.  While in the North, it was boiling over.  The new set of black jockeys had won half of the first sixteen Kentucky Derbies as well as numerous other prestigious races in the North against the country’s top white riders.  Now they were up against a racist press and public, for whom racing was preferred, when in the hands of white jockeys.

All the Best Jockeys of the West Are Colored” screamed the headline of The Spirit of the Times in 1890.  “Nearly every prominent jockey in the West is of colored persuasion.”  It noted in March that Pike Barnes, who had been working in California for Lucky Baldwin (who had now become good at picking winners), was returning to New Orleans and would soon be the "king of the jockeys on the Western circuit." 

Later in the same year The Spirit wrote,Those that have earned and attained the most Lonnie Claytonprominence are colored, some of them like Overton (Alfred “Monk”), Hollis, and Britton (Tommy) being very black, some of them, like Steppe (Robert), Williams (“Tiny”), and Allen (Alonzo) being bright mulattoes.”  In spite of achievements, distinctions by shades of color were still a pre-occupation of the American society, and as reflected in the newspaper reporting.  

By all measure, the same journal that would note, “In the colored ranks are to be found jockeys of the most sterling honesty and integrity and it is unfortunate that the same cannot be said of all white jockeys,” would not have considered its dissection by shades of color to be racially insulting given the times, as this news journal was otherwise a big fan of the black jockeys who had pioneered the sport of horseracing in the South.  In 1890, a Spirit of the Times writer wrote that he wanted to recognize “thorough ability combines with thorough honesty.. without regard to race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  This was actually a quantum leap on the part of The Spirit's writer, in what maybe a first of the era, wherein a newspaper exalted on its pages, words seeming more akin Frederick Douglass’.

It was without a doubt that black jockeys were of the highest integrity as a result of who they were.  They still lived in a country where the gallows might not be too far, as Louisville Jockey Club President, Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. had reminded Billy Walker.  Clark, claiming to have heard rumors, told Walker before a race, “I hear you are going to throw this race.  You will be watched the whole way, and if you do not ride to win, a rope will be put about your neck, and you will be hung to the tree yonder.”  As Colonel Clark pointed to the tree opposite the judges’ stand, he continued, “I will help do it”.  So black jockeys had a lot more to loose than just suspension.  As Hotaling states, “Any trouble for them meant big trouble.”

But The Spirit was also becoming concerned about the brain drain of their talented shades of colors from the West to the East in pursuit of the big dollars.  “The East has already gobbled up so many of the crack Western jockeys that there is a dearth of real good jockeys out this way

The Contenders

CombinedBy 1890, a group of African American jockeys were moving to the pinnacle of racing, in spite of the hostilities they faced in the North.  Again The Spirit of the Times noted, “Colored riders have made themselves felt in recent years.”  “Murphy (Isaac), Barnes (Shelby Pike), and Hamilton (Tony) rank with the very best, and it is at least possible that Ray (Chippie), in time will be as able as the three named.  There are other colored riders, such as Anderson, Stoval, and Fox that are both competent and successful.”

Of the group, Monk Overton would set a long standing American record in 1891 by winning six out of six races at Washington Park in Chicago, home of the American Derby.  Hotaling states this remained in the records throughout the next century among “Remarkable Riding Feats.”  “Tiny” Williams claimed the 1892 American Derby at Washington Park, the Travers at Saratoga, and as late as 1898, he won the Queen’s Plate in Ontario Canada.  Shelby "Pike" Barnes, winner of the 1888 Futurity (then biggest race in the country) and the 1889 Travers at Saratoga, would win the Belmont Stakes in 1890, among his many victories.  Tony Hamilton, an American Derby and Brooklyn Handicap winner, was about to explode.

Unsustainable Rise under changing circumstances

Edward Hotaling delineates social changes in the American society heading into the end of the 19th century that would spell doom for the black jockeys.  This included the onslaught of prejudice, public insults, barbarisms, exclusions, denials of education and medical care, torture, lynching, abrogation of rights, legal restrictions, and formal separation.  Hotaling states that these would be considered “racialism” only in 1907, and “racism” only as early as 1936.  These are all true but those were also all part of slavery, and post Civil War Reconstruction, under which black jockeys had thrived in horseracing. 


What Hotaling missed, however, was the legitimization of these practices brought on by the scandalous and shameful landmark United States Supreme Court's May 18th, 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, upholding the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities under the doctrine of "separate but equal."  With the abject sabotage and failure of Reconstruction up through 1877, southern whites had time to sow the seeds which would lead up to the Plessy ruling, and with the help of the United States Supreme Court in 1896, they reaped harvest. 

So imagine a society wherein “separate but equal” would now herald the Jim Crow laws and all that is accorded with “separate but equal.”  Then envision these stars of the racetrack who were celebrities in their own rights who out earned and out classed their white counter-parts, and it becomes clear why this would be unsustainable in every aspect of the word.

The South was meeting the changes with its reign of terror but it had seemingly, in some strange way, made exceptions for its black jockeys for some time.  This might have been primarily due to the South being used to making money off black labor.  However the emerging white supremacy groups such as the Ku Klux Klan were having no part of that.

In the North however, a different scenario existed.  Northerners became horrified as African Americans started the migration to their northern cities.  Some of the worst incidents of racial hostilities towards the black jockeys were carried out in the North.  The North met the migrating blacks with a vicious “late century rise in racism," with the newspapers of the day, leading the charge of public slurs and insults.

Migration of African Americans out of the South

willie-simmsThe New York Age was screaming headlines and articles about the “loud of mouth, flashy clothes, obtrusive and ‘uppish’ southern Negro.”

This change in demographics and circumstances of African Americans would also lead to an inevitable decline in their love of horseracing and a decline in their continuation as a demographic from which to field young jockeys.  Outside of the South, access to stables and to horseracing essentially evaporated for African Americans.  For the most part, these stables outside of the South were the domains of whites, and it was unlikely for young black boys to gain entry as groomsmen, stable boys, or ultimately, to get mounts as jockeys.  Not only were the stables white but they were also exclusive, and with little chance of access for urban African American dwellers.

Big Money in Horseracing

The third factor which would lead to the demise of the black jockeys was the big money now in
racing.  White riders were able to build careers by negotiating the best retainers and were always generally better paid than most black jockeys, but with the celebrity status of jockeys such as Ike Murphy and others, black jockeys had managed to eke out pretty good earnings up through the 1890s.  But heading into the end of the century, northern white stable owners and racing kingpins, especially in the massive New York market, preferred to see the big money being shared with white riders.  Black jockeys and trainers would often find themselves dumped in the big races, in favor of white riders.  The moneyed men from New York also then went South and bought up many of the small stables that had traditionally been the training ground for African Americans, thereby depriving them of access even in the South

This was also led by the northern press, which gave white riders glowing praises and publicity, while reserving vitriol and insults for black riders, in what was now a celebrity driven sport.  White riders such as Fred “the Flying Dutchman” Taral (who was once demolished by Isaac Murphy in the 1888 American Derby and by Pike Barnes in the same year’s Futurity Stakes) and John L. Sullivan were dubbed “Big and Little Casino” by the newspapers.

In spite of all of these obstacles, however, the black jockeys and trainers confronted them head on and were still winning and showing strength into the 1890s.  Black trainer Albert Cooper made his own one-liner to describe the situation after he found himself dumped as a trainer in favor of a white trainer.  The question was, “what happens when money hits several figures, with lots of zeros?”  “A naught’s a naught, and a figger, a figger.  All for the white man, and none for the nigger.”  But Cooper rose above it to succeed.  He was among several black trainers who owned their own stables and produced winning horses at that time.  For example, he had bought the horse Hyderabad for $350 and sold it for $30,000 to the same stable owner who had dumped him.  The owner had bought Cooper’s horse just to keep it out of races in which his champion horse would compete.

Tony Hamilton

By the mid 1890s, New York City, and not Kentucky, was the center of racing in America.  TopHamiltonAnthony
white riders included Snapper Garrison, Fred Taral, Martin Bergen, Sam Doggett, Lester Rieff, and Henry Griffin.  In spite of the obstacles, a few black jockeys were still at the pinnacle of racing, sharing the spotlight (if not the fortune) with some of those top white riders as well.  These top riders were Tony Hamilton, Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton, James “Soup” Perkins, Alfred “Monk” Overton, Tiny Williams, and Willie Simms.  In 1887, Hamilton had won the American Derby.  He won the prestigious Brooklyn Handicap in 1889 only to be subjected to racial taunts by the New York Herald.  The Herald’s headline on September 20th 1889, “Colored Jockeys Show the Way,” stated, “If a composite photograph had been made of the jockeys who rode the six winners at Gravesend yesterday afternoon, it would have been as black as Erebus.  There wouldn’t have been a single light in it, unless the camera had happened to catch Hamilton with his mouth wide open, displaying the pearly white teeth which form the only relieving feature on his coal black face.  The sons of Ham outrode the children of Japhet with a vengeance, for not a single white boy was successful in guiding a winner past the judges.  It was field day for the dusky riders, and they forced their Caucasian competitors to take positions in the background.” 

Tony Hamilton responded to this by continuing to demolish them.  He rode his horse Potomac in the third Futurity Stakes in 1890 to victory. At that time, the Futurity had become America’s richest and biggest race, with a purse of $67,675.  By comparison, the Kentucky Derby was still a fledging sport with a purse under $10,000.  That same year, Hamilton would also win another four races in New City, including the inaugural Toboggan Handicap, and a second successive Monmouth Oaks.  1890 would find Hamilton as the fourth leading jockey in the country.  Then, of fifty-six Goodwin listed top jockeys, at least twelve were African Americans.

In 1891, Hamilton was again riding Potomac to take the Realization Stakes at Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn to victory.  The $30,850 purse went to owner Mike Dwyer (of the Dwyer brothers whose brother and his horse Miss Woodford, had been dealt defeat at the hands of Ike Murphy).  This year would also see Hamilton become the number two jockey in the country, with Monk Overton as the only jockey with a higher winning percentage, albeit fewer mounts.  Hamilton had a slow two years between 1892 and 1893, but by 1894, he was on his way back to the top, now working for trainer, English immigrant Billy Lakeland who had ridden in the inaugural Kentucky Derby and was pretty familiar with the black jockeys over the years, having worked side by side with them for two decades. 

'Monkey' Hamilton

The New York Times derisively ‘praised’ Hamilton’s comeback while peppering him and his trainer with racial slurs.  “The once popular successful jockey seems to be able to ride better for Billy Lakeland than for anyone else, and the trainer asserts that this is due to the fact that Lakeland knows more about languages than Prof. Garner ever dreamed of in the wilds of Africa, and is so able to hold successful converse with Hamilton.”

Professor GarnerProfessor Garner was known at the turn of the century as the expert in “monkey talk.”  He travelled extensively throughout Africa, reputedly studying the language of monkeys and was said to be able to communicate with the primates.  The New York Times had essentially called Tony Hamilton a monkey by asserting that his return to success under Billy Lakeland was because Mr. Lakeland could effectively communicate with a monkey, even better than Professor Garner.  This was the environment for the black jockeys at the end of the century in what was then the country’s most important state for racing.  In fact, quite the opposite was correct.  It was the northern whites who had no experience with blacks.

In 1895, Hamilton was aboard Hornpipe against a dying Isaac Murphy on Lazzarone in the Brooklyn Handicap at Gravesend.  Ike staged a good run but Hamilton beat him back to win.  Hamilton repeated his performance a month later, this time on Lazzarone, winning the equally prestigious Suburban Handicap at Sheepshead Bay.  In 1896, Hamilton, on Counter Tenor, won the Metropolitan, becoming the first black jockey to win all three of New York’s big Handicaps.

Lonnie Clayton

Born in Kansas City, Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton was the youngest jockey to win the Kentucky Derby Alonzo Claytonin 1876, having hooked up with Lucky Baldwin at about age twelve as an exercise boy.  By age fourteen he was competing in the big leagues at Morris Park in New York, and had also won a Jerome Stakes in New York.  In 1892 at age fifteen, he rode Azra to victory in the Kentucky Derby.  Through the 1890s, he became a great rider in the circuit in New York, winning the Flash Stakes at Saratoga and placing second twice in the Kentucky Derby. 

Soup Perkins

Born in Kansas City but raised in Lexington Kentucky, James “Soup” Perkins grew up exercising horses by the time he was ten.  Like Lonnie Soup PerkinsClayton, he stated racing quite early, scoring at the Kentucky Latonia by the time he was eleven in 1891.  By thirteen, he had won several smaller races and at fourteen, he won the Latonia Oaks, where after, he headed to New York.  The Times then described him as, “the best lightweight jockey of the West.”  In 1895, he won the Lexington Phoenix Stakes on the horse Halma and four days later, he would again ride her, this time to win the Kentucky Derby at age fifteen.  He went on to win the Clark Stakes in Louisville.  By that time, James Perkins had become the top rider in the country with 192 victories.  His time at the top was short lived however, as he would be out of racing before the end of the decade.

Willie Simms

According to Edward Hotaling, Willie Simms and Fred “the Flying Dutchman” Taral were America’s greatest two jockeys in the 19th century’s last decade.  Simms, who was born in Augusta Georgia, would see an evolved racing career much later than the likes of James Perkins or Lonnie Clayton, which may account for the level of his success.  At twenty-one, he started by wining the 1891 Spinaway Saratoga, on the horse Promenade.  After several other wins, he would wind up becoming the fifth leading jockey in the country that year.  By 1893, he was signed to a big stable in New Jersey for a retainer of $12,000, which was significant at that time for any rider of his age.  By comparison, Sam Doggett, a fairly strong white rider, was commanding only $8,000 for his retained services.  Astonished (and maybe even angered) at his high fee, The Sporting World printed the following warning to Willie Simms, “After he will lose a few swell bets for the master of Rancocas, he may receive a vacation.“  Rancocas was a champion horse owned by the stable Simms was now working for.

Simms, riding Commanche, won the Belmont Stakes in 1893 and by 1894, he had become the national riding champion with the most wins.  In 1894, he was up against Fred Taral, dueling for the top honors in New York.  The New York press was solidly behind Taral and he delivered by defeating Simms to win all three of the spring handicaps – the Metropolitan, the Brooklyn, and the Suburban.  Simms then beat Taral to take his second consecutive Belmont Stakes that year.  On Taral’s win of the three handicaps, The New York Times headline screamed, “Taral’s Victory Gives Him a Triple Crown Such as No Other Jockey Has Ever Yet Won,” calling it a “record for all other jockeys to aim at in the future.”  By the summer, it was Simms' turn, winning five out of six races at Morris Park, New Jersey and repeating the same performance a week later.  Simms would see the end of 1894 as national champion for the second successive year. 

Simms had become the top athlete in the country and was also making a fair amount
willie simmsof money as well, matching Ike Murphy’s heydays of upwards of $20,000 from ‘first, second, and third calls.’  Like Billy Walker, he saved and invested heavily in real estate.  So well liked was Simms by his employers that they decided to take him to England with them.  England was considered the mother country of American racing and much of the existing benchmarks were still coming from England (It was only a few years earlier that Ike Murphy dubbed the “colored Archer,” after Fred Archer who was then the king of British horseracing).

Simms in England

Simms would go to England and change the sport by introducing them to the “American Seat.”  This was the style of riding, which had evolved in America wherein the rider crouched over the horse’s neck and withers in an aerodynamic position, which generated less drag from rider/horse combination.  Early black riders, such as Cornelius, Monkey Simon, Cato, and others, had pioneered this style of riding from the days of the quarter mile sprints on the Virginia-North Carolina borders.  It was also the style of riding by American Indians on horses acquired early on from the Spanish, so it is quite possible that early American racing had taken this form of riding from the Indians.  Slaves were the ones often sent on horsebacks to negotiate with Indians on behalf of whites and so early black jockeys could have learned that way of riding from the Indians.  The American Seat was in comparison to the English way of riding where the riders sat upright like a 'proper English gentleman.’

Whatever the case, Willie Simms was in the home of horse racing trying to sell American horseracing.  The English were neither ready for the American Seat nor for the sight of a black jockey in charge.  His riding of Eau Gallie in the Crawford Plate race in New Market on April 16th was derisively ridiculed.  But a turf writer wrote, “Simms silenced the mockers in the time-honored way: he won.  In his slipstream toiled the cream of English jockeyship, including Morny Cannon, Sam and Tommy Loates, Fred Allsopp, and Walter Bradford – the five leading riders in the table.” 

But prejudice was hard to overcome in those days in England, and in four months he would get only 19 mounts, so he packed and returned to the America where he believed he was still a star.  White rider Todd Sloan would travel to England two years later to face the same ridicule of “turning jockeyship into ‘monkeyship,’” for his crouched position but since he was not subject to racial insults, he stayed and racked up an impressive winning record and was finally able to convince England to accept the American seat.  Historians would then erroneously gave Todd Sloan the credit with inventing the ‘modern riding position’ in England

Return to America

On his return to America in 1895, Simms picked up where he had left off.  He rode Counter Tenor to win the Jerome Stakes, and he rode Ben Brush (a horse developed by black stable owner Ed Brown but now owned by the Mike Dwyer) in 1896, again to take the Kentucky Derby.  In that Derby, Willie Simms’ competition included black jockeys Soup Perkins, Monk Overton, Tommy Britton, Tiny Williams, and veteran rider William “Billie” Walker, riding in his fourth and last Derby.  This Derby would also inaugurate the tradition of presenting a collar of roses to the winning horse.

williesimmsIn spite of his accomplishments, Simms was then still not a familiar name to the white public in New York when he attempted to win his third Belmont Stakes in 1896.  The New York Times said of the crowd on this big race day that, “they generally knew of but two jockeys, Garrison (Snapper) and Tarral (Fred).”  But this was in large part due to the role of the press, including the New York Times, in their favorable coverage and publicity of the white jockeys.  When they did cover the black jockeys, it was mostly derisively, patronizingly, disparaging, or colorful in their play on skin shades.   As Hotaling states, not only did they ignore the black jockeys’ achievements but they also ignored the black fans at riding events in the North. 

For this race, however, Simms also had a huge contingent of “Western” black and white fans who had come up to New York to cheer on Simms and other black jockeys, many of whom were revered in Kentucky.  Of these fans, The Times had to make an effort to belittle their significance by attributing it to Bluegrass chauvinism, as opposed to the black jockeys’ achievements.  Said The Times, “In their opinion, Simms was the greatest jockey on earth because he had won the Kentucky Derby.  A boy or a horse that does that is always for the year, the greatest on earth, no matter what the horse or the boy maybe.  That is the sort of patriots they are out that way.  It is a mighty good characteristic.  It also saves a lot of fault-finding with jockeys.”

Simms was up against not only Taral and Garrison, but the “greatest jockey on earth” was about to take on top riders Doggett and Harry Griffin as well.  Owner Dwyer had micromanaged the race with the instructions to the jockey to hold back at all costs until the last three furlongs.  But this was late for Simms, riding Handspring, and they were defeated by Harry Griffin on his horse Hastings.  After the race, owner Mike Dwyer took the blame and went public to the press that the loss was his fault and due to his instructions to the jockey.  “Dwyer Says Orders Beat His Colt,” was the headline, and “vowed he would never again give orders to a jockey.”  Though he never captured his third, Willie Simms would go down in history as the only black jockey to win twice at Belmont Stakes (today, the longest of the featured Triple Crown).

The New York Times Race baits

Tony Hamilton IIn July 1896, Willie Simms and Lonnie Clayton watched fellow black jockey and colleague Tony Hamilton ride into a brick wall.  The New York Times was in usual form and called for Hamilton’s head.  After over two centuries, horseracing had finally put a respectable racing authority in place.  The New York region, with its three big venues – Coney Island Jockey Club’s course at Sheepshead Bay, the Brooklyn Jockey Clubs course at Graveshead, and at Brighton Beach – plus other smaller venues at Morris Park, Monmouth Park, New Jersey, and Queen’s emerging Aqueduct track, was the center of American racing.  The big stable owners had gotten together and formed a regulatory body with professional standards for scheduling, issuance of licenses, and for sanctions, and they also published the American Stud Book.  With major players touting nicknames such as ‘Bet-a-Million” Gates,' the money in the sport had mandated such an authority as well.

Hamilton’s ride and accident had now fallen to the authority to investigate.  Said The Times, which had seemingly never liked Hamilton because of his dark skin and which had previously attributed his success under trainer Billy Lakeland as owing to Lakelands ability to speak the language of monkeys, Hamilton has been under suspicion all the season on account of his erratic performances in the saddle.  One of the last things August Belmont did before his departure for Europe was to give Hamilton a severe but friendly talking to about his performances, a bit of kindly advice.” 

August Belmont was one of the richest men in New York and a pioneer of horseracing in the North, so to imagine him giving a lowly black jockey advice on his performance would have been unprecedented in the least, and at best, mentally irreconcilable.

But Hamilton had indeed given reasons for some suspicions.  He had ridden the favorite, Hornpipe, in a race in which he led through the first half,  then as The Times reported, “the cripple Mirage sailed by and won easily,” the implication here that Hamilton held back his horse Hornpipe and threw the race.  A reporter called Hamilton called 'abominable.'  Two days later, Hamilton rode the same horse Hornpipe again, but this time he rode against another favorite, The Dragon, ridden by jockey Tod Sloan.  Again, this race featured Simms, Lonnie Clayton, and white jockey Doggett.  This time, however, Hamilton and Hornpipe cleared the field and defeated the favorite, The Dragon, with little effort.  His second performance on the same horse in the space of two days raised the specter of having thrown the first race.  The authority suspended Hamilton pending its investigation. 

The New York Times did not await the results of the investigation, however, and it went after Tony
Tony HamHamilton with ferocity.  “Hamilton, the colored jockey, who had been doing a lot of in-and-out riding this season, which performances have been variously accredited to the too free use of opium, to overindulgence in gin, and to downright rascality, will now have a chance to rest to sober up, or to take a lesson in honesty, whichever he may need most.”

The press even pressured Billy Lakeland, trainer and friend of Hamilton, to disavow him.  On being asked how could Hornpipe metamorphosed from pussycat to tiger in the space of two days, the newspaper reported, “Lakeland said that it completely baffled him.  So Hamilton, it was agreed, must know something about it, and it was decided that the racetracks would be very much better off without his presence than with it. Hamilton was, therefore, put where he can do no more damage to the turf for some time to come.”

The New York Times wrote that the Jockey Club should ferret out the bookies, if they were the culprits, and rule them off the track forever.  Then in its ‘softball’ to Hamilton, The Times wrote, “dishonest bookies are far more culpable than this ignorant, muckle-headed negro, who has been punished by having his means of livelihood taken from him.  Revoking the licenses of thick-headed negroes will not suffice to do the business at all.”  Such were the times in horseracing in the North that in the adjacent column, The New York Times listed the ‘also rans’ in the Brighton race, which included a horse named “Little Nigger.”

As previously shown, the black jockeys enjoyed widespread popularity in the South and in the Bluegrass West, but early turf authority official Charles Palmer once pointed out that the black jockeys “were never popular in the East, either with owners or the public.  The former did not know how to handle them and the.. throngs along the rail looked upon them as curiosities.”  Hamilton was to face his jury and as Hotaling states, it must have been a daunting prospect for a lone southern black jockey to face a jury of pristine elder white big shots of New York racing. 

One story that made the rounds was that of another black jockey who had been accused of improprieties and had to face August Belmont and the other stewards of New York racing.  The story was propagated ‘Foxie’ Keene, son of New York racing bigwig James R. Keene who was supposedly a member steward at the interrogation of the black jockey.  According to Foxie, the jockey appeared in front of the great men.  Belmont insisted that the proceedings should be as formal and as impressive as possible in order to scare the kid into telling the truth.  “The Negro Tony Hamiltonwas then summoned, and Mr. Belmont, with awful majesty, raised his gavel and brought it down on top of his desk. 

Bang! ‘What is your name?’ 

‘John’ was the quavering answer. 

Again the chairman’s gavel fell.  Bang! ‘Your last name?’ 

‘Williams Sir.’ 

Bang! ‘Residence?’  The negro looked helplessly around.  ‘He means where do you live’ said Algernon Daingerfield.

‘Ma home is whar my hat is’ grinned John Williams.  ‘Ah’m a flat-footed, no account loafer, an a crap-shootin son of a bitch.’ 

Under cover of the roar of laughter that wrecked the last semblance of dignity, Mr. Keene whispered to his nephew Daingerfield,

‘Buy me that nigger Algy, I like him.”

The story revealed the ignorant bigots who ran New York racing, inclusive of entire families in some cases (father, son, and nephew), and this was what faced the ‘free’ black jockeys in the North at the end of the 19th century.  But the Jockey Clubs were at least licensing black jockeys, and in the end, the record would show that its treatment of black jockeys were relatively fair, given the times, as they knew the contribution of African American riders to the sport, a few of whom rode and were making big money for these same stable owners.  Comparatively, baseball which had made an effort at integration with the 1884 signing of black player Moses Fleetwood Walker (the first true black player in the major leagues) to play major leagues for Toledo, walked away from that experiment almost instantaneously, and never revived it until the arrival of Jackie Robinson more than a half century later.

New York Times Eat Crow

A few days after the ‘inquisition of Tony Hamilton’, The New York Times was forced to lead out with the headline, “Hamilton All Right.”  After being questioned by John Keene and other turf authority officials, Tony Hamilton had been exonerated completely of any chicanery or wrongdoing and his suspension at Brighton was immediately lifted.  He had done nothing wrong.  As Hotaling writes, The New York Times was mortified.  “With this slap in the face, the Stewards will probably take no further action no matter what strange things may happen in racing.” 

Simms Second Kentucky Derby Victory

By 1898, Willie Simms entered the Kentucky Derby once more, riding the horse Plaudit, another of Ed Browns former horses.  Simms was up against a great white rider and leading rider in the country that year, Tommy Barns who was riding a colt named Leiber Karl, which was the heavy favorite.  Willie Simms would take home his second Derby victory that year, then only topped by Ike Murphy.  He then went up to New York to capture the Preakness Stakes, which had shifted from Pimlico to Gravesend in Brooklyn.

The end of the 19th century would see black jockeys Tony Hamilton win all three handicap Triple Crown classics and Willie Simms win all the three-year-old Triple Crown classics. 

Though never matching Ike Murphy’s record, flamboyance, or tenacity, black jockeys such as Lonnie Clayton, George Spider Anderson, Monk Overton, Tommy Britton, Shelby Pike Barnes, Tiny Williams, Soup Perkins, and the extraordinary duo of Tony Hamilton and Willie Simms, carried their legacy, led their profession, and continued to increase the legacies of the black jockeys into the waning years of the 20th century, only two decades from their future removal from much of American horseracingWinkfield and its history. 


Our Man in Paris…  In Russia, In Transylvania, In Czechoslovakia... In Poland!  James "Wink" Winkfield 

For more on the black jockeys and jockey boy paintings for sale, see

Editors Note: In celebration of the history of black jockeys in the Kentucky Derby, we have spent a week chronicling the history of the great black jockeys who pioneered the sport but were then banished from the sport in the early 1900s, and from much of its history. Kentucky Derby Facts: Black jockeys won 8 of the first 16 Derbies and 15 of the first 28. 13 of the 15 jockeys in 1875's inaugural Derby were black, including the winning jockey, Oliver Lewis aboard his horse Aristides. Isaac "Ike" Murphy became the first jockey to capture successive Kentucky Derbies in 1891 and the first to win a total of three, and James “Wink” Winkfield would win successive races in 1901 and again in 1902 on his horse Alan-a-Dale. Other winners included Alonzo "Lonnie" Clayton, Babe Hurd, James "Soup" Perkins, Erskine Henderson, and Willie Simms.

(Sources include Edward Hotaling’s book, The Great Black Jockeys and The Library of Congress.) 





Welcome to Ealy Mays Artworks

Celebration of over 150 years of Black Literary and Artistic development in Paris

Here you will find the works of one of the most prolific African American artists. Based in Paris, France, this selection includes current masterpieces as well retrospectives from a body of over 30 years as an ethnic artist painting in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe. Your choice of paintings, prints, posters, postcards, puzzles, memorabilia, T-shirts, collectibles, accessories,and more, is only a click away. Read more

It is the spectator and not life, that really mirrors art”  The Picture of Dorian Gray …Oscar Wilde

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