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Lawn jockeys

A lawn jockey is a statue depicting a man in jockey clothes, intended to be placed in front yards as hitching posts, similar to those of footmen bearing lanterns near entrances and gnomes in gardens. The lawn ornament, popular in certain parts of the United States and Canada in years past,[1] was a cast replica, usually about half-scale or smaller, generally of a man dressed in jockey's clothing and holding up one hand as though taking the reins of a horse. The hand sometimes carries a metal ring (suitable for hitching a horse in the case of solid concrete or iron versions) and, in some cases, a lantern, which may or may not be operational.

Originally a welcoming symbol to guests and providing to those on horseback a practical and novel hitching post, later statues eventually became only decorative and not well suited for hitching a horse, often favored by those wishing to evoke an Old South or equestrian ambiance.

Historically, black jockeys depicting racist caricatures of African Americans were commonplace. Several styles have been produced, with the most prolific being a shorter version commonly known as "Jocko" and a taller version known as "cavalier spirit". The former is of stockier build, with a hunched posture; the latter generally is more slender. Typically these statues are made of concrete, but also are made of other materials such as iron, and may be found in polyresin and aluminum.



The "Jocko" style hitching post

The earlier "Jocko" design usually depicts the right arm raised, and was styled as a racist caricature of a young black boy, often with exaggerated features, such as big eyes with the whites painted in; large lips painted red; a large, flat nose and curly hair. Typically, these pieces were painted in gaudy colors for the uniform as with racing colors, with the flesh of the statue a gloss black. As of the 20th century, these statues have been considered racist, and many remaining samples have now been repainted, using pink paint for the skin while the original sculpture's exaggerated features remain.

Cavalier spirit

The "cavalier spirit" style hitching post

The "cavalier spirit" design usually depicts the left arm raised and uses the likeness of a white young man, lacking the minstrelsy features of its Jocko counterpart . These statues would also be painted in stark colors, with skin in either gloss black or pastel pink, red lips, etc., white breeches, black boots, and usually with the vest and cap of either bright red or dark green. Occasionally, the vest and cap might be painted in the bright shades of a jockey's racing silks. Several of the "cavalier spirit" jockey statues are prominently displayed at both the entrance of the 21 Club in Manhattan and the entrance of the Santa Anita Park clubhouse in Los Angeles.

A 1947 magazine advertisement uses two images of cavalier-style lawn jockeys to underscore the statue's use as a symbol of the hospitality associated with Old Taylor Kentucky Bourbon, stating: "Jockey hitching posts that invited guests to tarry are an old Kentucky tradition – another sign of a good host."[2]


The earliest versions of lawn jockeys, used as hitching posts, were created in the 1850s or early 1860s.[3]

Theorized origins

Apocryphal accounts of the figure's origin portray the statue as representing a hero of African-American history and culture.

There is a common story that black lawn jockeys are a recreation of a black boy who served George Washington in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.[4] The story says that the boy, named Jocko Graves, was left behind as Washington considered it too dangerous for him to cross the Delaware River with the men. Graves then died in the cold while tending to the men's horses, frozen with a lantern in his hand.[4] According to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, the legend is not corroborated by historical records.[5]

Another story, popularized by American historian Charles L. Blockson, posits that the figures were used on the Underground Railroad to guide escaping slaves to freedom.[6][7] Claims of an association with the Underground Railroad have not been corroborated by other historians.[8][9] The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia writes that "there is very little, if any, primary source material for the claim that lawn jockeys were used as signaling devices for escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad."[10]

In popular culture

In media and popular culture, lawn jockeys sometimes appear as a prop or conversation piece, in most cases merely trivial and non-notable in nature, although notable racial connotations are often associated with earlier examples of lawn jockeys versus more modern contemporary examples. Sometimes a reference to a lawn jockey is used to illustrate a racist or race-based point in popular culture. For example, in a Season 1 episode of The Golden Girls, Sophia makes a subtle hint at Blanche's Southern American roots being steeped in racism, suggesting to the woman that she "tar and feather the neighbour's lawn jockey" in order to make her father feel at home during his visit to the more liberal city of Miami, Florida. In All in the Family, the gift of a black lawn jockey is bestowed to main character Archie Bunker to annoy him, owing to his reputed racial bigotry, although in an unexpected twist, Archie actually finds the racist gift inappropriate and bothersome, refusing to put it out on his own property. In Season 1, episode 13 of Maude, Arthur refers to a black man protesting slumlords on Maude's front lawn as "so much more animated than those little black jockeys".

Lawn jockeys are often associated with wealthy white American families in popular culture, either for satire and sociopolitical symbolism, or for legitimate aesthetic appeal. Examples of this trend include, but are not limited to, the following:

The entrance of the 21 Club in Manhattan used 33 white jockeys to welcome its patrons


See also


  1. ^ "Opinion | Lawn jockeys stir powerful emotions". The Hamilton Spectator. July 31, 2008 – via
  2. ^ "1947 advertisement for Old Taylor Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey". Retrieved June 19, 2020.
  3. ^ "Washington And The Underground Railroad: Historians Say Myths About Lawn Jockey Origins Don't Hold Up". Paulick Report. Retrieved 2023-12-12.
  4. ^ a b "Lawn Jockey Legends - 2020 - Question for the Museum - Jim Crow Museum". Retrieved 2023-12-12.
  5. ^ "Lawn Jockeys - 2008 - Question of the Month - Jim Crow Museum".
  6. ^ "Jockey statues marked Underground Railroad". February 22, 1998. Archived from the original on July 14, 2017. Retrieved August 1, 2011.
  7. ^ Sherrod, Pamela (1998-02-08). "The Secret Life of the Black Lawn Jockey". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2023-12-12.
  8. ^ Chapman, Roger; Ciment, James (December 15, 2009). Culture Wars: An Encyclopedia of Issues, Viewpoints and Voices (1 ed.). Routledge. p. 60. ISBN 978-0765617613. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
  9. ^ Gómez, Emiliano Tahui. "Fact check: Black lawn jockey history tied to Jim Crow South, not Underground Railroad". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2023-12-12.
  10. ^ "Lawn Jockey Legends - 2020 - Question for the Museum - Jim Crow Museum".
  11. ^ Corstorphine, Kevin (June 8, 2008). "Duma Key Book Review". The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies (4). Dublin: 78.
  12. ^ "The Negro ((Le nèg')". Retrieved June 19, 2020.
  13. ^ "Room 7 S7E11". Oh Shut Up Rose! A Quotable Episode-A-Day Golden Girls Guide. Retrieved 19 April 2022.