The Heart of the Turf: Racing’s Black Pioneers

The Heart of the Turf: Racing’s Black Pioneers

Exhibit Dates: February 23 to August 31, 2023

Oscar Dishman, Jr. (right) and Robert Turner (left), circa 1965
Keeneland Library Collection

The Heart of the Turf: Racing’s Black Pioneers highlights the lives and careers of 80 African American horsemen and -women from the mid-1800s to the present through exhibited interpretive panels, photographs, artwork, and video interviews. More than 100 photographs from Keeneland Library collections capture moments across their varied careers, while commissioned artwork by LaVon Williams and loaned artwork from the Kentucky Derby Museum, the International Museum of the Horse, and private collections honor their lasting legacies.

Lexington’s East End, home to the Kentucky Association track from the late 1820s through 1933, also was home to many Black horsemen and their families. By the late 1800s, four future Racing Hall of Famers lived in Lexington’s East End: jockeys Isaac Burns Murphy and Jimmy Winkfield, trainer Ansel Williamson, and trainer/owner Edward Dudley Brown. Hundreds of others bought their homes, built their businesses, and raised their families in surrounding neighborhoods. 

That many of the city’s leading horsemen were African American and living near the Kentucky Association track shaped the East End’s heritage as a historic industry hub for pioneering Black horsemen. The economy of the Bluegrass and viability of the Thoroughbred industry as a whole are rooted in their skill, hard work, knowledge, and tenacity. 

From race track superstars to behind-the-scenes caretakers, The Heart of the Turf: Racing’s Black Pioneers showcases select stories of the countless African Americans who forged their way in Kentucky and beyond from the era of slavery to the present, making the racing industry what it is today.      

Exhibit Guided Tours and Educational Programs:

To book an exhibit guided tour for adults or an exhibit educational program for 5th to 12th grade students, email Roda Ferraro at [email protected].

Exhibit Developers

Historical Consultant: Yvonne Giles
Exhibit Curator: Roda Ferraro
Library Director: Becky Ryder

Exhibit Contributors

Hank and Mary Brockman
Coleman D. Callaway III
Kirk Hoefling
Catherine Clay Neal
Cross Gate Gallery
The International Museum of the Horse
The Kentucky Derby Museum
Phoenix Rising Lex

Jimmy Lee in 1908
Keeneland Library Hemment Collection