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The Legend of Jocko

Jocko (also known as the Lawn Jockey) is seen in the South and in the Appalachian's of the United States. Many have been destroyed because of the thinking that they are a racial slur to African-Americans. But is this true? The River Road African American Museum in Louisiana tells us that lawn jockeys represent nothing of the sort, rather they show us a proud moment in United States history.

The story begins on an icy night in December 1776 when General George Washington decided to cross the Delaware River to launch a surprise attack on the British forces at Trenton.

Jocko Graves, a twelve-year-old on of a free Black man, wanted to help George Washington but was too young. He volunteered to look after the horses. This task was essential to Washington's plan. After all, they could not carry the horses to the opposite shore because the barges were too shallow.

When Washington and his men crossed the Delaware, they found the horses as planned, tied to Graves who had frozen to death with the reins of the horses still clenched in his fist.

Washington was so moved by the young boy's devotion to the revolu- tionary cause he commissioned a statue of the "Faithful Groomsman" to stand in Graves' honor at the entrance of the General's estate in Mount Vernon.

By the time of the Civil War, these "Jocko" statues could be found on plantations throughout the South. Like the North Star that pointed fleeing slaves to their freedom, the Jocko statues pointed to the safe houses of the Underground Railroad. Along the Mississippi River, a green ribbon tied to a statue's arm -- whether clandestinely or with the owner's knowledge, indicated safety; a red ribbon meant danger. Thus today the original lawn jockey statues fetch thousands of dollars as true artifacts of the Underground Railroad that conducted so many African-American slaves to freedom.

Similar cast-iron statues began appearing in the decades after Washington's crossing of the Delaware in jockey silks, whether for aesthetic reasons or confusion born of Graves' first name. The clothing worn by the lawn jockeys resembled the clothing worn by Black racing jockeys, who have a glorious history.

In 1875, the first 13 winners of the Kentucky Derby were Black, the first being jockey Oliver Lewis. Lewis was the first to win three Derbies.

 
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