When the Kentucky Derby gets under way today, not one black jockey will be in the race. Which isn't exactly news. But consider this: For the first Derby, in 1875, 13 of the 15 jockeys were black. In fact, black jockeys—the first were slaves—thoroughly dominated the sport through the late 1800s, writes Lisa K. Winkler in Smithsonian magazine. Then Jim Crow and segregation drove them all away.
Jimmy Winkfield was the last black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, in 1902. "By 1921, they had disappeared from the Kentucky track and would not return until Marlon St. Julien rode in the 2000 race," writes Winkler. Despite their success—15 of the first 28 Derby winners were black—"African American jockeys’ dominance in the world of racing is a history nearly forgotten today." (Read more Kentucky Derby stories.)