African Americans in Racing Featured in New Kentucky Derby Museum Experiences

Events / Travel
Isaac Murphy, one of the leading jockeys of the 1800s. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Kentucky Derby Museum is thrilled to amplify in a new way, the stories of Black horsemen who not only dominated the sport of Thoroughbred racing in the early days of the Kentucky Derby, but continue to make a lasting mark on its legacy. Oliver Lewis. Isaac Murphy. Ansel Williamson. These are just a handful of legendary names that guests will learn about during two new immersive opportunities at Kentucky Derby Museum.

What’s New

On the new African Americans in Racing Tour, made possible with support from Churchill Downs and the James Graham Brown Foundation, guests will walk through Churchill Downs Racetrack while making historically significant stops along the way on this 90 minute experience. Through history, including the Jim Crow era that led to the exclusion of Black jockeys from the sport, and to modern times, guests will learn about the profound impact African Americans have made on horse racing from the very beginning. Visitors will hear incredible stories of how 13 of the 15 horses in the first-ever Kentucky Derby were ridden by Black jockeys, and 15 of the first 28 Derby winners were ridden by Black jockeys. This tour is now available Saturdays at 1 p.m. and is $15 per person.

Secondly, the Museum is launching the “Proud of My Calling” experience, a monthly, 60-minute immersive program where visitors are introduced to incredible Black horsemen through costumed actors, historic paintings, photos and objects from the past. Meet greats like Oliver Lewis, Isaac Murphy and Ansel Williamson. Lewis, a Black jockey, rode Aristides to victory in the first Kentucky Derby in 1875. Williamson, born enslaved, became a successful trainer, nabbing wins with horses including Aristides in that inaugural Derby. Murphy, also born enslaved, is considered one of the greatest jockeys of all time, winning three Kentucky Derbys and an estimated 44% of his races. This experience is offered monthly and is $20 per person, starting March 27.

These two, exciting new opportunities are part of Louisville Tourism’s Unfiltered Truth Collection, which features several local attractions highlighting African American contributions to the city and culture.

Ongoing commitments

Part of the Kentucky Derby Museum's latest exhibit. (Kentucky Derby Museum)

In line with the Museum’s non-profit mission to engage, educate and excite everyone about the extraordinary experience that is the Kentucky Derby, the Museum has been sharing the important role African Americans have had on the Derby for decades. Since 1993, African Americans in Thoroughbred Racing, a permanent exhibit, has chronicled the impact African Americans have had on the Thoroughbred industry and the Kentucky Derby, and features some of the most significant artifacts in the Museum’s collection.

Additionally, the Museum’s Education Team teaches thousands of students each year about this important history through field trips and in-school teaching.

Still to Come

Chris Goodlett, director of curatorial and educational affairs for the Kentucky Derby Museum. (Kentucky Derby Museum)

Coming in Spring 2021, Kentucky Derby Museum is redesigning and moving its African Americans in Thoroughbred Racing exhibit to a larger and more prominent location within the Museum, as well as expanding the footprint of the exhibit. This will allow the Museum to display more of its collection, add new components, and provide visitors the best experience possible. This exhibit will also feature oral history interviews conducted with Louisville's African American community. This expansion is also made possible through support from Churchill Downs and the James Graham Brown Foundation.

Additionally, a traveling African Americans in Thoroughbred Racing exhibit will be created to travel to museums, community centers, visitor centers and churches.


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