Katherine C. MooneyJul 2, 2023
The Rise and Fall of a Black Jockey
Yale University Press 2023
Isaac Murphy, born enslaved in 1861, still reigns as one of the greatest jockeys in American history. Black jockeys like Murphy were at the top of the most popular sport in America at the end of the nineteenth century. They were internationally famous, the first African American superstar athletes—and with wins in three Kentucky Derbies and countless other prestigious races, Murphy was the greatest of them all.
At the same time, he lived through the seismic events of Emancipation and Reconstruction and formative conflicts over freedom and equality in the United States. And inevitably he was drawn into those conflicts, with devastating consequences.
In Isaac Murphy: The Rise and Fall of a Black Jockey (Yale UP, 2023), Katherine C. Mooney uncovers the history of Murphy’s troubled life, his death in 1896 at age thirty-five, and his afterlife. In recounting Murphy’s personal story, she also tells two of the great stories of change in nineteenth-century America: the debates over what a multiracial democracy might look like and the battles over who was to hold power in an economy that increasingly resembled the corporate, wealth-polarized world we know today.
Omari Averette-Phillips is a History Educator and an Independent scholar based in Southern California. He can be reached at email@example.com