The River Road African American Museum in Louisiana tells us that lawn jockeys represent nothing of the sort, rather they show us a proud moment in U.S. history.
The story begins the icy night in December 1776 when General George Washington decided to cross the Delaware River to launch a surprise attack on the British forces at Trenton. A twelve-year-old African-American sought to fight the Redcoats but Washington deemed him too young and ordered him to look after the horses instead and requested that he keep a lantern blazing along the Delaware so the company would know where to return after battle.
Many hours later, Washington and his men returned to their horses who were tied up to the young boy they left behind. He had frozen to death with the lantern still clenched in his fist. Washington was so moved by the young boy’s devotion to the revolutionary cause he commissioned a statue of the “Faithful Groomsman” to stand in Graves’s honor at the general’s estate in Mount Vernon.
By the time of the Civil War, these statues could be found on plantations throughout the South and like the North Star that pointed fleeing slaves to their freedom, the Lawn Jockey statues pointed to the safe houses of the Underground Railroad. Along the Mississippi River, a green ribbon tied to a statue’s arm (whether clandestinely or with the owner’s knowledge) indicated safety; a red ribbon meant danger. Thus these original lawn jockey statues today fetch thousands of dollars as true artifacts of the Underground Railroad that conducted so many African-American slaves to freedom.
So contrary to most folk’s thinking that these statues as a racial slur they are a memorial to a beacon for freedom!
Q: Often called “The Lawn Jockey,” who was this icon named after?