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New biography of African American jockey Isaac Murphy focus of Emory author talk

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Holly Crenshaw

Pellom McDaniels III, Emory professor and faculty curator at the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, will give an author talk at Emory University’s Robert W. Woodruff Library on Jan. 30. Photo courtesy University Press of Kentucky.

Updated Jan. 30: This Jan. 30 author talk has been postponed due to inclement weather. The rescheduled date will be announced soon.

Author Pellom McDaniels III, an Emory University professor of African American Studies and faculty curator of African American Collections at Emory's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL), will talk about his new book, “The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy,” on Thursday, Jan. 30 on the Emory campus.

The biography documents the dramatic life story of the sports legend, a son of slaves who rose to become one of the most triumphant jockeys in horse racing history before Murphy’s early death.

The event will be held in the Jones Room on level 3 of the Robert W. Woodruff Library. Light refreshments and book sales will be available starting at 6:30 p.m., and the author talk will begin at 7 p.m. The program will be followed by a book signing, with books for sale again. The book was released in October by the University Press of Kentucky.

First to win the Derby three times

Murphy (1861-1896) was the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby three times (1884, 1890 and 1891). His win record of 44 percent across all races remains the most successful in the history of horse racing. Known for his gentlemanly and elegant demeanor, Murphy began racing at age 14 and continued until shortly before his death at age 35 from pneumonia. His life spanned the Civil War, Reconstruction and the beginning of the Jim Crow era, the latter of which contributed to the disappearance of black jockeys during the first part of the 20th century, McDaniels says.

Early in his graduate studies, McDaniels began researching Murphy and realized very little information could be found about the jockey. He traveled to Kentucky, Tennessee, California and other states to document Murphy’s life and his significance in the history of horse racing and African American sports.

African American jockey Oliver Lewis won the inaugural Derby in 1875, but no African American rider has come in first since Jimmy Winkfield’s 1902 victory. Successful black jockeys have not resurfaced until recently, when Marlon St. Julien placed seventh in the Kentucky Derby in 2000. Kevin Krigger also received media attention when he raced in the Derby last year, placing 17th.

“I hope my book and this event will help generate a robust conversation about the importance of studying race and sports in American history,” McDaniels says. “Our Race and Sports in American Culture Series and the momentum we’re generating with MARBL’s new collections and the materials we’re acquiring support these kinds of conversations. We hope more scholars will be able to pursue this kind of research in our collections.”

The Robert W. Woodruff Library is located at 540 Asbury Circle in Atlanta, 30322. Parking is available in the Fishburne deck. For event-related information, contact Julie Braun at

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