The Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority at Dartmouth University normally holds a Kentucky Derby party where guests dress up and sip mint juleps…but no more. The event has been cancelled.
During the 2015 party, Black Lives Matter protestors said the sorority was “recreating an Antebellum South atmosphere…” that was racist and elitist. The protestors chanted that “Derby..is the face of genocide…and police brutality.”
The sorority vice president explained that the Kentucky Derby party theme was abandoned because of its “racial connotations” and “pre-war southern culture.”
Following are several historical facts that the sorority might have considered before terminating its annual Derby party and, in effect, agreeing with protestors’ uninformed accusations about the event.
1. The first Kentucky Derby was held on May 17, 1875, ten years after the American Civil War ended. Additionally, Kentucky was part of the union, not the confederacy, in the Civil War.
2. Thirteen of the 15 jockeys in the inaugural Kentucky Derby were of African-American ancestry , including the winning jockey Oliver Lewis.
3. In marked contrast to the history of other sports–and in particular Major League Baseball, the National Football League, college football and basketball, the PGA, and professional tennis– black Americans were prominent in horse racing from the very beginning.
The History Channel reported: “In the years following the Civil War, black jockeys dominated horse racing at a time when it was America’s most popular sport. African-American riders were the first black sports superstars in the United States, and they won 15 of the first 28 runnings of the Kentucky Derby…While the 1880s saw professional baseball draw the color line, not to be broken until the Brooklyn Dodgers called up Jackie Robinson in 1947, African-Americans continued to thrive on the track.”
Similarly, the first African-American golfer did not play in the Masters until 1975 (Lee Elder) and the first African-American tennis player did not win a Grand Slam tournament until 1956 (Althea Gibson). The first NCAA championship college basketball team with all black starters was in 1966.
4. Arguably the greatest jockey in American turf history is the late 19th century rider Isaac Murphy, with an unrivaled 34% win percentage and three wins in the Kentucky Derby.
Although it is factual that black jockeys were banned from the major American racetracks by about 1905, this was true of racetracks all over the United States, not just in the Jim Crow South. Moreover, a ban on African-American athletes was also in effect for the other dominant sport of the day, Major League Baseball, which prompted the creation of the Negro leagues.
5. Just as it did in the latter part of the 19th century, horse racing today provides lucrative opportunities for minority jockeys. Two thirds of the 18 riders in the 2015 Kentucky Derby, for example, had Hispanic surnames.
6. One of the premier events of the Kentucky Derby Festival is the “100 Black Men of Louisville Derby Gala” that raises funds to send disadvantaged high school students to college.
Kappa Delta Epsilon replaced its supposedly racially tainted Kentucky Derby party theme with a theme the deep thinkers in charge evidently think is not objectionable in polite society, Woodstock.
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