Kentucky Derby Week – MARBL Visits the Bluegrass


From the Ralph McGill Collection (Courier Journal)

It’s a very special week in the bluegrass, as all of Kentucky gears up for the most exciting two minutes in sports: the Kentucky Derby.  As the entire country will watch history being made at Churchill Downs, MARBL has a special connection to this week’s activities.  MARBL Curator for African American Collections Pellom McDaniels III will be touring Kentucky and participating in Derby festivities as he speaks about Isaac Burns Murphy, the famous African American jockey about whom McDaniels wrote, The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy (The University Press of Kentucky, 2013).  A traveling exhibit about Isaac Burns Murphy is currently on display at the Kentucky Derby Museum, in Louisville, Ky. To help celebrate Derby Week, MARBL wanted to share some of our materials that are related to the Kentucky tradition.

The first item from MARBL collections is a pamphlet, published in 1939. “The Negro and the Kentucky Derby” was published by a group of African American business owners in the Louisville area, and included a short essay detailing the history of African Americans and the Kentucky Derby.  The pamphlet was financed by a wide variety of African American SKMBT_C22415042809080_0001[2]businesses from Louisville, who purchased advertising space.  The purpose of this pamphlet was to not only promote local businesses, but also provide a guide for African American visitors to the derby, so that they could find safe and welcoming services while visiting the city.


The other item is an invitation to the 1970 Kentucky Derby to Robert W. Woodruff, former President of the Coca-Cola Company and major benefactor of Emory University and the City of Atlanta. In this letter, the President of the Kentucky SKMBT_C22415042809150_0001Derby, Wathen R. Knebelkamp, is offering an invitation to the Kentucky Derby, and to the Colonel Matt J. Winn Room.  This is one of the executive suites at Churchill Downs, part of what is known as “Millionaire’s Row.” It makes sense that one of America’s most powerful businessmen is being offered an invitation to such a prestigious location to view the Derby.  You can see the traditional details on the stationary used for the letter and the enclosed courtesy card. The famous twin spires of Churchill Downs and a gold embossed thoroughbred are featured prominently.SKMBT_C22415042809160_0001

Below, you can find an itinerary of Dr. Pellom McDaniels III’s planned visit throughout the state, as he participates in speaking engagements, public programs, and book signings this week. If you are in the area, we encourage you to attend and hear about his work and the legacy of Isaac Burns Murphy:

Tuesday, April 28

6pm – Dedication of the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden – East 3rd Street, Lexington, KY

Wednesday, April 29

10am – 4th and 5th Grader convocation at Lexington’s Lyric Theater – 300 E 3rd St, Lexington, KY 40508

6:30pm – Presentation and book signing at Lexington’s Lyric Theater – 300 E 3rd St, Lexington, KY 40508

Thursday, April 30

12pm – Event at University of Kentucky’s William T. Young Library – 401 Hilltop Ave, Lexington, KY 40506

3:30pm – Book signing at the Kentucky Horse Park – 4089 Iron Works Pkwy, Lexington, KY 40511

Friday, May 1

Afternoon – Lecture/Presentation at the Kentucky Center for African-American Heritage – 701 W Muhammad Ali Blvd, Louisville, KY 40203


You can keep up with updates about the itinerary by following us on Twitter or checking our Facebook page.  Happy Derby Week!!!