September 18, 2013 - History belies racism in statue, reader says
I am writing in response to Mr. Fetzer's letter about the black lawn jockey at the Miller House ("Reader calls for removal of 'insulting' statue," Sept. 11).
I spent many years working in the racehorse industry where, as expected, there are quite a few lawn jockeys to be found. Not only at the racetracks, but out in the surrounding communities that support the races.
While black lawn jockeys are no longer the norm, I can guarantee they are around in places other than Clarkston.
I have seen several in Saratoga Springs in upstate New York. I also observed one outside a nationally known trainer's barn at Churchill Downs the week of the Kentucky Derby this year.
In fact, the first time the Derby was run in 1875, the winning horse was ridden by a black jockey and trained by a black trainer.
Thirteen of the first 15 runnings of the Kentucky Derby were won by black jockeys, who were called "the first great American sports heroes" by Edward Hotaling in his book The Great Black Jockeys.
Unfortunately, as racism and the white lawn jockey took over racing at the turn of the century, much of that history was forgotten or ignored.
The most ironic thing is that places like Saratoga Springs, NY, and Louisville, KY, are more diverse and every bit as respectful as the town of Clarkston.
Daily, hundreds of people walk by close enough to touch the jockeys, barely noticing and hardly offended. TV cameras and news reporters from all over swarm the barn area during Derby week, but none reported the the supposedly offensive statue.
There are plenty of wonderful things about living in a small, quaint town, but when something that is hardly newsworthy outside of that small town can be so misconstrued, one has to wonder where the true ignorance lies.
Reader vouches for statue owner's character
I wonder if the respectful, educated, as opposed to ignorant and insulting, citizens of Clarkston have gone out and purchased their tar and feathers yet.
Jim Cousens has already been told, in a letter to the editor ("Reader calls for removal of 'insulting' statue," Sept. 11), by an upstanding member of the community that "his kind" wasn't welcome here.
If you will note, the big sign in front of the house with the statue is telling about the house so it can be sold. Sold mainly because of the treatment the Cousens have received from this community and the Historical Committee. Obviously, in a historical community, Mr. Fetzer feels some markers of historical significance should not be allowed.
I have known Jim for over 55 years and having gone to school in Pontiac together, I'd bet you he was thinking only of the historical significance of the statue.
I wonder what Dr. Miller would think of all the hoopla some people in the community are creating over the house and statue he once owned.
Statue not racist, not Underground Railroad either
I read with great interest the recent article regarding the local controversy over the appropriateness of a black lawn jockey sited in front of an historic home ("Statue irks but is historical," Sept. 11).
As an historian who specializes in American slavery, the Underground Railroad (UGRR) and the pursuit of freedom, I can assure you the lawn jockey statue was never used as a signal on the UGRR.
The statue was first designed and manufactured after the Civil War, making its use as a tool to guide people to freedom impossible. The myth of the lawn jockey first appears in 1951, but takes on greater importance during the 1980s with Mr. Charles Blockson's unsubstantiated claims.
A quick call to the Blockson Collection at Temple University reveals there is no primary source documentation for this story. The Cousens are like many people who own these statues - they are not racist.
They are, however, unaware of the historical and cultural context that makes the statue a painful reminder of the Jim Crow era. Mr. Fetzer is entitled to his complaint. These vestiges of our nation's discriminatory and racist past belong in museums and not on front lawns.
Kate Clifford Larson, Ph.D.