Days Gone By - stories from the past

Lawn Jockeys and the Underground Railroad – a fact many people may not realize

Lawn Jockeys and the Underground Railroad

by

Shannon Hollon

Please read before passing judgement...Many folks have thought of these lawn jockey statues as racist icons of the the segregated south but they were used by the Underground Railroad as a guide to slaves north and freedom.


Clothing was coded

The clothing of the statue was coded. A striped jockey shirt meant this was a place to swap horses, while a footman in a tailed coat meant protected overnight lodging and food, and a blue sailors waistcoat meant the homeowner could take to a port and get you on a ship to Canada or a northern port. I always laugh when I hear folks talk how racist these are, because honestly the people who had them were probably the least racist.

lawn jockeys picture

Knowledge is power

Later these came into popularity after World War II, and they were again coded to show that the white homeowners supported early civil rights efforts and were not affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan. Sometimes knowledge is power and helps dispels myths and rumors.
Lawn jockey

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About Shannon Hollon

Shannon Hollon lives in McCalla Alabama graduated from McAdory High School and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Served 9 years in the US Navy Seabees with one tour in Afghanistan.Currently employed with US Steel and serving on the board of directors for the West Jefferson County Historical Society. http://wjchs.com/

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22 comments

    1. Ellen Watson Rainwater

      I was just about to post this!

  1. Ellen Watson Rainwater

    You offer no proof of this theory.

  2. Drake Cortez

    Yeah. Not true. Racist. It’s an urban myth concocted by people to make themselves feel better.

  3. Laura Hubbard Aldridge

    I think this is like the Underground Railroad “signal quilts”, myth and story telling.

  4. Bren Pendergrass Audet

    Surprised to see this n Alabama Pioneers. With just a little investigation, it was easy to discover there is nothing to back up this story by Shannon Hollon.

  5. Steve Bryant

    I was told this same story by my Grandmother when I was a teen. Don’t know if it’s true or not, but, makes sense to me. I, personally, have never thought them “racist”, just lawn ornaments. Too many people, today, are “stuck” on the word racist, & put too many meanings behind it.

    1. Drake Cortez

      If you can’t look at these caricatures and see they are racist, then you’re ‘stuck’ too.

    2. Steve Bryant

      Don’t know you, won’t argue with you…you have a right to voice things as you see them.

    3. Steve Bryant

      Thank you, Ms Morse. I read it all.

  6. Shannon Hollon

    Please prove this story is not true

  7. Michael Gilbreath

    Sad part is the truth of the Underground Railroad. Illinois & Indiana had state laws preventing blacks from living there! So they smuggled runaway slaves to Canada where they were RESOLD to new owners! The hyprocisy of Lincoln is beyond scope, freeing only the slaves in the South during the Civil War.

  8. Susie Spence

    If you have evidence that lawn jockeys were used by members of the Underground Railroad, please share it with Snopes.com (which says this is unproven) and with us.

  9. Anyone who still relies on snopes needs to find a better source. Snopes has been proven time and again to be wrong on many subjects. Do your own homework. Here’s one very in-depth source that backs up this article. http://www.lawnjock.com/lawn_jockey_history.html

    They’ve been traced back to ancient Greece circa 500 BC. Also, an homage to Jocko Graves who served General George Washington.

    1. Liz, that website doesn’t back up the article. The “link” between ancient Greek statues is corny at best. The website doesn’t cite any reliable historical evidence that lawn jockeys were used by the Underground Railroad, other than a link to one article from one newspaper dated more than 80 years after the end of the Civil War. Supposing that article is true, it only gives evidence for one instance in which a lawn jockey was used in the way this post claims — not that it was a common practice. Whether you trust Snopes or not, what they say is true: there is insufficient historical evidence at this point to prove that lawn jockeys were used as UGRR signals. The author of this article in Alabama Pioneers cites no evidence; there are no footnotes. A good, reliable historian shows his/her sources.

      Also, Shannon Hollon said, “Please prove this story is not true.” That’s now how it works with historical writing — there has to be evidence that something IS true, other than legend. For example, there is no reliable evidence that Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag; it’s possible that she did, but it can’t be proven, so it should not be taught as fact. Same with this article — it could be true, but it without evidence should not be stated as fact.

      But in any case, the statues are now considered racist regardless of their history. From the Snopes article: “I do believe that there is a consensus view in African American communities that black lawn jockeys are demeaning relics of a racist past. They may not have started out with a racist meaning — or always had that meaning — but that is the meaning they have today. There are, undoubtedly, non-racist reasons for owning and displaying black lawn jockeys, but it would be hard for an adult American to claim that he or she does not know that many African Americans find lawn jockeys racially offensive, especially the ones with jet-black skin and oversized lips.”

  10. Since there seems to be no historical reference to prove that these lawn ornaments were used by the UGRR, we can only accept that it’s possible, or plausible that they were used for this purpose by some owners of the statues. Conversely, we cannot state that none were used for this purpose. There may have been only one instance, but if that were true it wasn’t a common thing to look for.

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