Lawn Jockey Statues are Racist-Disputed!
Summary of eRumor:
Lawn jockey statues depicting slaves holding lanterns are racist.
It’s unclear where exactly black lawn jockey statues came from, and what they’re meant to represent.
Lawn jockey supporters argue that these “black footman statues” are works of Americana art. The other side of the argument goes that all lawn jockey statues are a painful and racist celebration of America’s darkest chapter: slavery.
There’s no clear answer, but we can explore the history of lawn jockey statues to offer some perspective.
One theory goes that lawn jockey statues symbolize an African-American boy named Jocko Graves. Legend has it, Graves heroically died helping George Washington return from battle during the Revolutionary War, according to Ferris State University:
“The story begins the icy night in December 1776 when General George Washington decided to cross the Delaware River to launch a surprise attack on the British forces at Trenton. Jocko Graves, a twelve-year-old African-American, sought to fight the Redcoats, but Washington deemed him too young and ordered him to look after the horses, asking Jocko to keep a lantern blazing along the Delaware so the company would know where to return after battle. Many hours later, Washington and his men returned to their horses that were tied up to Graves, who had frozen to death with the lantern still clenched in his fist. Washington was so moved by the young boy’s devotion to the revolutionary cause he commissioned a statue of the ‘Faithful Groomsman’ to stand in Graves’s honor at the general’s estate in Mount Vernon.”
But Mount Vernon librarian Ellen McCallister Clark debunked that account, writing in a letter that there’s no historical account of a “Jocko Graves,” nor of any 12-year-old boy dying along the Delaware River while holding a lantern for George Washington.
Another theory goes that the lawn jockey statues were used to guide fleeing slaves along the Underground Railroad. Charles L. Blockson, the great-grandson of a slave who escaped to Canada, learned that colored ribbons were placed on long jockey statutes to signal safety or danger:
In a 1984 National Geographic cover story on the underground railroad, Blockson told how the wife of U.S. District Judge Benjamin Piatt had tied a flag to a lawn jockey as a signal to fleeing slaves that it was safe to stop there.
But skeptics argue that escaping slaves would have moved at night, making them unable to see different colored ribbons in the darkness. It’s not clear what role, if any, lawn jockeys played in the Underground Railroad.
There are different styles of lawn jockey statues, too. Older versions of the statues appeared to be caricatures of slaves; they were painted in black face and were stooped in “servile” positions. Another version features non-caricatured African-Americans dressed as slaves. Another version, known as “Cavalier spirit,” depict upright, white lawn jockeys.
Again, there’s no clear answer for where lawn jockey statues came from, or what they represent. That’s why we’re classifying this one as “disputed.”