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A lawn jockey is a small statue of a man in jockey clothes, intended to be placed in front yards as hitching posts, similarly to those of footmen bearing lanterns near entrances and gnomes in gardens.
The lawn ornament, popular in certain parts of the United States in years past, was a cast replica, usually about half-scale or smaller, usually of a man dressed in jockey's clothing and holding up one hand as though taking the reins of a horse. The hand sometimes carries a metal ring (suitable for hitching a horse in the case of solid concrete or iron versions) and in some cases a lantern, which may or may not be operational.
Originally a welcoming symbol to guests and providing to those on horseback with a practical and novel hitching post, later statues eventually became only decorative and not well suited for hitching a horse, often favored by those wishing to evoke an Old South or equestrian ambiance.
Historically, black jockeys were commonplace. Several styles have been produced, with the most prolific being a shorter version commonly known as "jocko" and a taller version known as "cavalier spirit." The former is of stockier build, with a hunched posture; the latter generally is more slender. Typically these statues are made of concrete, but also are made of other materials such as iron, and may be found in poly resin and aluminum. Despite often being categorized as kitsch or controversial, lawn jockeys are still in demand. Both styles are still manufactured and sold.
The earlier "jocko" design usually depicts the right arm raised, and was styled as a cartoonish young black boy, often with exaggerated features, such as big eyes with the whites painted in; large lips painted red; a large, flat nose and curly hair. Typically, these pieces were painted in gaudy colors for the uniform as with racing colors, with the flesh of the statue a gloss black. As of the late twentieth century, these statues have been considered racially insensitive and many remaining samples have now been repainted using pink paint for the skin while the original sculpture's exaggerated features remain.
The "cavalier spirit" design usually depicts the left arm raised, and uses a less exaggerated likeness of a young man, with features that are non-descript. These statues would also be painted in stark colors, with skin in either gloss black or pastel pink, red lips, etc., white breeches, black boots, and usually with the vest and cap of either bright red or dark green. Occasionally, the vest and cap might be painted in the bright shades of a jockey's racing silks. Several of the "cavalier spirit" jockey statues are prominently displayed at both the entrance of the 21 Club in Manhattan and the entrance of the Santa Anita Park clubhouse in Los Angeles.
A 1947 magazine advertisement uses two images of cavalier-style lawn jockeys to underscore the statue's use as a symbol of hospitality and the hospitality associated with Old Taylor Kentucky Bourbon, stating: "Jockey hitching posts that invited guests to tarry are an old Kentucky tradition – another sign of a good host."
Some accounts of the figure's origin, however, cause some to see the statue as representing a hero of African American history and culture. According to the River Road African American Museum the figure originated in commemoration of heroic dedication to duty: "It is said that the 'lawn jockey' has its roots in the tale of one Jocko Graves, an African-American youth who served with General George Washington at the time that he crossed the Delaware to carry out his surprise attack on Hessian forces at Trenton, NJ. The General thought him too young to take along on such a dangerous attack, so left him on the Pennsylvania side to tend to the horses and to keep a light on the bank for their return. So the story goes, the boy, faithful to his post and his orders, froze to death on the river bank during the night, the lantern still in his hand. The General was so much moved by the boy's devotion to his duty that he had a statue sculpted and cast of him, holding the lantern, and had it installed at his Mount Vernon estate. He called the sculpture 'The Faithful Groomsman'." The most frequently cited source for the story is Kenneth W. Goings in Mammy and Uncle Mose (Indiana University Press, 1994), though he regards it as apocryphal. The story was told as well in a 32-page children's book by Earl Kroger Sr., Jocko: A Legend of the American Revolution (1963). Moreover, there is a 13-page typescript titled "A Horse for the General: The Story of Jocko Graves" (1972), by Thomas William Halligan, in the archives of the University of Alaska Anchorage / Alaska Pacific University Consortium Library.
Charles L. Blockson, Curator Emeritus of the Afro-American Collection at Temple University in Philadelphia and author of Hippocrene Guide to the Underground Railroad, claims that the figures were used in the days of the Underground Railroad to guide escaping slaves to freedom: "Green ribbons were tied to the arms of the statue to indicate safety; red ribbons meant to keep going ... People who don’t know the history of the jockey have feelings of humiliation and anger when they see the statue ..." Blockson has installed an example of the statue at the entrance to the University's Sullivan Hall. Patterns of and markings on the clothing of the statues also are said to have indicated messages understood by fleeing slaves.
Neither the Revolutionary War nor the Civil War legends are corroborated by historical records. Mount Vernon's librarian Ellen McCallister Clark wrote in a letter to Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library: "No record of anybody by the name of Jocko Graves, nor any account of somebody freezing to death holding Washington's horses, exists in the extensive historical record of the time."
In popular culture
- A black lawn jockey plays a symbolic role (as well as providing the story's title, in the protagonist's southern vernacular) in Flannery O'Connor's short story "The Artificial Nigger."
- A lawn jockey comes to life in the climactic chapters of Stephen King's novel Duma Key.
- Le Neg', a 2002 film by Québécois director Robert Morin, about a black adolescent who resents lawn jockeys as racist and destroys one, resulting in his murder.
- 33 lawn jockeys donated long ago by wealthy patrons adorn the balcony above the entrance of the 21 Club in Manhattan. They're painted to resemble famous jockeys.
- A lawn jockey comments on racism toward black people in America in the DC Vertigo comic Uncle Sam.
- In the song "Uncle Remus" by Frank Zappa and George Duke from the album Apostrophe ('), Zappa sings of knocking jockeys off of rich people's lawns in Beverly Hills.
- In an episode[which?] of All in the Family, Archie Bunker was given a black lawn jockey as a gift by Burt Munson and Tommy Kelcy, for paying off his mortgage. After seeing it Archie thanked his friend, but refused to put it outside, because he didn't want people bothering him about it.
- In episode 5-07-Art Burn (2001) of Daria, near 14m41s, wondering if it is the original.
- In The West Wing, Season 2, Episode 5 "And It's Surely to Their Credit," near 39m50s, President Bartlett describes the Statue of Liberty as "like a lawn jockey."
- In Home Alone, the McAllister family had a lawn jockey in their driveway that would get knocked over every time a car pulled up in front of their house.
- The first edition jacket of the 2016 Man Booker Prize winner The Sellout by Paul Beatty, a satirical novel about race, features a pattern of lawn jockeys.
- A lawn jockey and images of lawn jockeys appear in several episodes of Dear White People. The head of the campus humor magazine tries to argue that they are not racially insensitive because he read on Wikipedia that they were used to help fleeing slaves.
- Concrete Aboriginal
- Garden gnome
- Representation of African Americans in media
- Stereotypes of African Americans
- 1947 advertisement for Old Taylor Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- [dead link]
- "Jockey statues marked Underground Railroad". Loudounhistory.org. 1998-02-22. Retrieved 2011-08-01.
- "21 Club, New York City / Famous NYC Restaurant with Banquet Rooms - History". 21club.com. Retrieved 2011-08-01.
- Signals of the Underground Railroad
- Antique collecteing page on history of lawn jockey
- Article debunking story of lawn jockeys
- Newspaper article about children's book author who wrote about the origin of lawn jockeys