Saratoga Springs

Confederate flags on lawn jockeys spur racism concern

MLK committee chairwoman: Stunt aimed to draw attention to the racing/race connection
The lawn jockeys are unveiled in July at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
The lawn jockeys are unveiled in July at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is working with the Saratoga County district attorney to find and prosecute those who draped Confederate flags over several of the museum’s 37 lawn jockeys Tuesday morning. 

Museum spokesman Brien Bouyea said the museum sent video surveillance of four to five people draping the flags over the necks of the lawn jockeys to the Saratoga Springs Police Department, which is investigating the incident. 

Hollyday Hammond, chairwoman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Planning Committee of Saratoga Springs, said that while she doesn’t know the people or group who committed the act, their perspective is that the city has benefited greatly from racing. 

“I’m not a historian, but I know that the history of racing includes a lot of enslaved people as well as, after slavery ended, a lot of black people continued to be the labor that supported this industry, and a lot of them were jockeys,” she said. “It went from having many African-American jockeys in early racing and switched to very few being represented, so there’s a long, complicated history.” 

Hammond added that those who committed the act are asking the museum to have a “historically accurate exhibit.”

“The racing museum is defending its position, and I don’t think they’re deliberately doing something offensive, but they’re nostalgic for what they call ‘their beloved sports history,’ and not everyone shares that experience or perspective,” she said. “We need to get better at coming together and talking about that and not be offensive or accusatory.

“Sometimes people do things to call attention, so I don’t want to miss this opportunity and have it go away without people learning anything.”

Hammond said she hopes those who placed the flags on the lawn jockeys are able to have a conversation with the museum to plan for what a historically accurate exhibit would look like. 

“The museum said [the lawn jockeys] don’t represent race, but they’re clearly not black or brown,” she said. “Instead of treating this like something criminal happened, we need to come together to have a conversation.”

President John Hendrickson said that, within the past six months, the museum has started to talk about having black jockeys. 

“We want to be the museum for all people, and we want to tell the story accurately,” he said. “The Hall of Fame has inducted many African-Americans in the past, and it’s not about race. It’s about the contribution to the sport.” 

Hendrickson said the museum uses video surveillance to send a message that if something like this is done, the museum will prosecute. 

“It’s no different than if someone put a swastika flag on your home,” he said. “You can’t change someone’s physical property without their permission.”

Hendrickson said he’s disappointed by the situation. 

“What’s disturbing is they did this anonymously, and it’s hard to start a dialogue with someone who’s anonymous,” he said. “If you’re proud about what you’re saying, make it public.” 

On Wednesday, Hendrickson called Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen to see if her office would look into the incident. 

He said Heggen’s office was helpful in catching the two men who pleaded guilty to criminal mischief charges after damaging the Native Dancer statue in November 2015. The statue was donated by Hendrickson and Marylou Whitney to celebrate the city’s centennial year. 

“The D.A.’s office did a great job on that, so I’m confident they will again,” Hendrickson said. 

Heggen said she would look into the matter and how to proceed based upon the police investigation. 

“We’ll look at if it’s appropriate to hold people accountable for their actions, which will be based on if it’s a violation of the law,” she said. “I’ve spoken to the police department and reached out to have further conversations with the officers who are involved in the investigation.”

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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