Edward Hotaling: The Great Black Jockeys; the Lives and Times of the Men Who Dominated America's First National Sport

By E, Michael | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, January 31, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Edward Hotaling: The Great Black Jockeys; the Lives and Times of the Men Who Dominated America's First National Sport


E, Michael, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


Edward Hotaling: The Great Black Jockeys; The Lives And Times Of The Men Who Dominated America's First National Sport

Edward Hotaling has written a thoroughly engrossing, albeit slightly flawed, socio-historical study of the great black jockeys from the colonial period to the early twentieth century. Hotaling reconstructs a detailed historical portrait of the most prominent black riders, beginning with Austin Curtis, who rode and trained racehorses for one of the founding fathers of North Carolina. Simon, another great jockey from Charleston, South Carolina, developed a reputation as a showman on the turf, and competed against general and future president Andrew Jackson on several occasions. Charles Stewart not only became a great jockey, he also managed a thoroughbred operation after his racing days were over. Isaac Murphy, whose winning percentage has never been matched, won three Kentucky Derbies, while Jimmy Winkfield won back-to-back Runs for the Roses in 1901 and 1902.

Hotaling, an Emmy winning writer and producer for the NBC television station in Washington, D.C., reconstructs this journey by ferreting out an impressive array of primary and secondary sources. Hotaling mined a mother lode of primary data from various historical societies and museums, the private papers of presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, state records from North Carolina, and state archives. He also examined contemporary newspapers, sporting periodicals, and the American Turf Register.

Hotaling's literary style is reminiscent of John Dos Passos' American Trilogy. Like this American novelist, Hotaling weaves historical events and personalities into this study of the plight of the black jockeys. Natural events like the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts lnfantry's attack on Fort Wagner, South Carolina is cited as a prelude to the enormous transformation that would occur after the Civil War, when horse racing declined dramatically in the South and expanded in the North. The assault on Fort Wagner coincided with an escape slave name Sewell winning a race at the Saratoga racecourse, marking the start of a series of annual contests on a circuit that already included New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and the sites on that circuit would soon expand. Hotaling, like Dos Passes, also cites contemporary newspaper headlines, like the New Orleans Picayune'S, "GREAT SALE OF PLANTATION NEGROES," (p. 153) depicting a slave auction that took place at the Savannah, Georgia Race Course. According to Hotaling, the Savannah Race Course sale provided a stunning example of an experience many black jockcys were able to avoid. The sum effect of this literary collage reinforces the fact that African American jockeys made a significant contribution to the evolution of horse racing, in the midst of an environment marred in uncertainty.

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