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

Lawn Jockeys and the Underground Railroad


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

Alabama Footprints Confrontation is a collection of lost and forgotten stories that reveals why and how the confrontation between the Native American population and settlers developed into the Creek-Indian War as well as stories of the bravery and heroism of participants from both sides.

Some stores include:

  • Tecumseh Causes Earthquake
  • Terrified Settlers Abandon Farms
  • Survivor Stories From Fort Mims Massacre
  • Hillabee Massacre
  • Threat of Starvation Men Turn To Mutiny
  • Red Eagle After The War



    1. I was just about to post this!

  1. You offer no proof of this theory.

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

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

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

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

    3. Thank you, Ms Morse. I read it all.

  6. Please prove this story is not true

  7. 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. 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.”

    2. There were no black folks eating watermelon statues in Greece, please stop being an apologist for racism

  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.

  11. This disappointing post is basically a shared paraphrased version of the viral 2016 facebook post, parts are word for word. If this Alabama Pioneers site is based on history, shouldn’t you provide your valid sources, footnotes, etc (not facebook)? If you haven’t already, please visit Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Wash. D.C. There’s a section that talks about these caricatured objects as well as other racist propaganda. As your shared post states, “Sometimes Knowlege is power, and helps dispel myths and rumors.”

  12. For all of you intellectual self-appointed guardians against racism, here is the link to a story published in the Chicago Tribune on Feb 8, 1998, written by Pamela Sherrod [Now Pamela Sherrod Anderson], described as “an award-winning writer, filmmaker, playwright, educator and journalist.” Pamele Sherrod is also an African American, so the racist epithet may be, to paraphrase Snopes, “unproven.” Ms. Sherrod’s article contains innterview commentary from historian/author Charles Blockson, curator of the Afro-American Collection at Temple University in Philadelphia, also an African American.

    I think the 20 seconds you each spent getting results from an unreliable source [Snopes] doesn’t even qualify as research. I had no problem researching the 1998 Chicago Tribune story and Ms. Sherrod and I still have the remainder of the morning and rest of the day to enjoy.

    Thank you, Shannon Hollon for an interesting article.


    1. Well done Mr. Money

    2. Appeal to authority fallacy. It’s also a 20 year old article

  13. This is an urban legend. There is no proof to this claim