This Has Got To Be Just Plain Wrong…Or Am I Wrong?

IMG_6550, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

I was absolutely stunned to encounter this lawn jockey on my walk about this past weekend. I didn’t just take a double take, I took a quadruple take. Then I slapped my face a few times and looked again. Indeed, I thought I may have been transported back decades. I thought for sure this must have been one of the most racist things I’ve ever encountered in DC. But maybe I was wrong. I did a little research when I got back home and apparently back in the Underground Railroad days these lawn jockeys used to signify a safe place. Sometimes those supporting the Underground railroad would tie a a green string around the wrist to signify a safe place. You can read more about the history at this Web site or here at the Wikepedia entry.

So after reading the history a bit, what do you think about encountering a lawn jockey like this? Is it racist or in homage to the Underground railroad or is it simply a lawn decoration?

10 Comment

  • I believe this particularly questionable lawn art in question happens to be located across the street from my humble home.. if so I can indeed confirm that it belongs to a very amiable black family and I can only assume they own/display it in homage to the underground railroad.

    That being said… I originally hail from a very rural, very conservative, and very ethnically homogenous corner of VA and have also witnessed these Lawn Jockeys outside some of the ‘classiest doublewide trailers’ with no other purpose than to stir up racial tension.

    …so it can go both ways.

  • i dunno. i got my first out of school job in alabama. i remember being stunned at seeing all these ‘black mammy” bobble heads, and porcelain ones in aprons being sold everywhere. they even sold statues like the one above. no one, black or white, thought twice about them.

  • I think in general it can go both ways. As an African American I lean towards being offended because of the use of the lawn jockey by racists as mentioned by Flipflopirate. I think there is a supposed story of the connection with George Washington and a young black boy who essentially froze inthe “line of duty” with Georges horse. I don’t now if that’s true and if it is was, did he do it because he knew that slave owning George would not be happy if he complained of the cold.

    Anyway, many white families paint their lawn jockeys white (so as not to appear racist) and so it makes sense that if a black person wanted one, they should paint it black

  • Authentic Jim Crow collectibles are highly prized by some collectors, many of whom are African American. I had a black friend in college whose parents had a huge collection of mammy cookie jars, Jim Crow iron banks, and other racist memorabilia from overseas. Her mom said it was “a reminder of how far we’ve come” as well as what we don’t want to go back to.

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  • Spike Lee’s movie Bamboozled has a amazing series of scenes based on racist collectibles and is a must-see for everyone interested in America’s racist entertainment past.

  • oh lord.. i dont care if the owners are black. many of the participants in the trans atlantic slave trade were black -too…

  • There used to be a black guy on East Capitol Street who had a collection of lawn jockeys in his front yard. He, also, alluded to positive historical significance. He even had his nickname, Jocko, in big, wooden letters on the front of his house. I have to go out there someday to see if he’s still there.

    “…I think I’ll fly to Beverly Hills
    Just before dawn
    And knock the little jockys
    Off the rich people’s lawn
    And before they get up
    I’ll be gone…”

    –Frank Zappa

  • Oprah collects items from the days of Segregation such as “Whites Only” signs, etc., as a reminder of our country’s past. Not sure what is going on here–I’d need to know the context.

  • I used to think that they were racist. I decided to learn more about them as my boyfriend wanted one. I’ve learned that they played a huge part in the underground railroad bringing slaves to freedom / safety. Duh! No wonder he wanted one…he’s a HUGE American history buff!

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