The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy
Isaac Burns Murphy (1861–1896) was one of the most dynamic jockeys of his era. Still considered one of the finest riders of all time, Murphy was the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby three times, and his 44 percent win record remains unmatched. Despite his success, Murphy was pushed out of Thoroughbred racing when African American jockeys were forced off the track, and he died in obscurity.
In The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy, author Pellom McDaniels III offers the first definitive biography of this celebrated athlete, whose life spanned the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the adoption of Jim Crow legislation. Despite the obstacles he faced, Murphy became an important figure—not just in sports, but in the social, political, and cultural consciousness of African Americans. Drawing from legal documents, census data, and newspapers, this comprehensive profile explores how Murphy epitomized the rise of the black middle class and contributed to the construction of popular notions about African American identity, community, and citizenship during his lifetime.
Pellom McDaniels III is faculty curator of African American collections and assistant professor of African American studies at Emory University. He received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for The Prince of Jockeys.
We have waited a long time for a scholar to pull together the story of Isaac Murphy and nineteenth-century American and Kentucky life with the exquisite interpretation that Pellom McDaniels offers in this manuscript. .This work is path-breaking for the detailed study it offers into the texture and layers of life in Lexington, particularly black Lexington, during the post-Civil War decades and into the Gilded Age. -- Maryjean Wall, author of How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders
A persuasive blend of storytelling and historical analysis, this is an enlightening account for horsemen, sports lovers, and historians of post Reconstruction-era American race relations. Pellom McDaniels’ success is that he brings into sharp relief the devolving social and cultural context of African-American jockey Isaac Burns Murphy’s childhood, apprenticeship, and career. The author convinces the reader of Murphy’s personal discipline and singular achievements--enabled despite an increasingly hostile environment by the support of family and the larger African-American community’s commitment to the project of self-advancement. -- Myra Young Armstead, Bard College
Pellom McDaniels stitched together the compelling facts and lost details of Isaac Burns Murphy’s life so artfully, I felt as if I were there living it with him. Anyone who is striving to understand how and why professional athletics tends to function as a bellwether for racial change in America, good or bad, must read this book. -- Sonya Ross, Race and Ethnicity Editor for the Associated Press
McDaniels provides the first definitive biography of Mr. Murphy, whose life spanned the Civil War, Reconstruction and the adoption of Jim Crow legislation. -- baltimoresun.com
In The Prince of Jockeys, McDaniels provides the first definitive biography of Mr. Murphy, whose life spanned the Civil War, Reconstruction and the adoption of Jim Crow legistlation. Despite the obstacles he faced, Mr. Murphy became an important figure - not just in sports, but in the social, political and cultural consciousness of African Americans. McDaniels discusses how Mr. Murphy epitomized the rise of the black middle class and contributed to the construction of popular notions about African American identity, community and citizenship during his lifetime. -- Aegis -- Aegis
Like its subject, The Prince of Jockeys is layered and thoughtful, an accessible read that demonstrates how an extraordinary man's life reflected the complex struggles of African Americans in the late nineteenth century. -- Ohio Valley History
Pellom McDaniels III...brings a vivid depth and scope to a forgotten legend in sports history. -- The Atlanta Voice
[. . .] McDaniels has written a sweeping narrative of national history, using Murphy to symbolize the fate of successful African Americans—a fate resulting from “a view of race . . . so entrenched in the white American imagination that it is visible even in the twenty-first century, as evidenced by the public reaction of some . . . to the election of the nation’s first African American president, Barack Hussein Obama” (p. 2). The result is a rich, multidimensional history of African American life between the antebellum period and the early twentieth century. -- Reviews in American History