The story of black African American people rises far above the story of slavery.
For me personally, there is far more to ‘African American History’, that is yet to be explored and revealed by the human race. And the history of horse racing is part of the rich African-American history. For many years, long before I was born, black people dominated the arena of ‘Horse Racing’. These heroic men today are sometimes referred to as the ‘Great Black Jockeys’.
But long after I was born, their stories of success on the famous horse racing tracks and their uncountable adventures in the thoroughbred Industry around the World is starting to show signs of fading away.
I am here, as a concerned historic writer to awaken the stories of our long forgotten black jockeys, horse trainers and horse owners with my book. And I will do so commencing with my own personal narrative story which is extremely colourful and tremendously emotional.
The beginning in New Zion, Kentucky – 1923
My name is Walter Jackson and I was born in 1923, on April the 16th, in a small town called New Zion, Kentucky, USA. My father often recalled the day of my birth as a lovely hot summer afternoon. At that time in the 1920s, my parents worked on a farm and it is in one of its stables, that I was delivered by a veterinary doctor. You see I feel that life must be a series of coincidence because years later, my best friend would be a veterinary doctor.
Later on in life, my father would often claim to me, that the birth of me gave rise to a new lease of life for black people in America.
I guess one of the reasons my father felt strongly that way was because it was in 1923 that we had our 29th President of America. His name was John Calvin Coolidge and he stayed on as President until 1929. But it was President John Calvin who began to fight for the rights of African Americans and his year of appointment conceded with the year of my birth.
It was during President Coolidge's reign in office that the Ku Klux Klan began to slowly lose all their power in America and slowly racism was challenged on a large scale throughout America by various groups of people and individuals. And that’s why my father felt so strongly about my birth as the beginning of God’s blessing to the African American generation. In 1923 despite serious racism, life in Kentucky as a child was full of cultural richness and adventures, and as I slowly started to grow up, I learnt more about what made New Zion a special place in the history of the black African Americans.
Some people refer to that history as the ‘African-American history’, which started in the 16th century. Growing up as a child into a young boy I soon realized that my town, New Zion, was habited by mainly black people. I learnt that New Zion had inherited and given birth to thousands of rich cultural stories related to Black history. New Zion was a neighbourhood that was situated right in the heart of Kentucky and its earliest roots could be traced back to the year 1868.
One of the first settlements of free slaves is recorded to be in New Zion, and I am proud to say that I was born to parents, whose fathers, mothers and great ancestors were former slaves of this land. New Zion is a village that was formed by two former slaves in 1868. History was made in 1868, when two former slaves, Calvin Hamilton and Primus Keene bought 23 acres of land in New Zion, and formed a black community in no time that strived on for years to come. These two former slaves sold smaller plots to free men and the area was first known as the community of Briar Hill.
A few years later my neighbourhood was renamed to New Zion. By the time I was ten years old, my father saturated me consistently, almost after dinner every evening, with stories of my hometown and its precious unforgettable history. Every evening during the week after supper he would tell me a story about his past life and the lives of many black people who struggled during the slavery period.
“Listen son, you must never forget where come from,” he would often say, “You must always be proud of your heritage and be a role model to the younger generation when you grow up.”
I loved growing up in Kentucky that the story I am about to tell actually grows and dies in this beautiful part of East Central United States of America.
During my early childhood, I begun to have a love for horses and it was only until I reached the age of ten, that I could understand what underlying principles may have influenced my undivided love for horses. My father, Walter Senior, explained to me how black people had contributed to great achievements in horse racing one evening.
“Walter Junior,” he said to me proudly one evening, “Come and sit down by me. Let me tell you a great story,” he gesticulated with his hand.
I moved quickly towards him and sat down on the sofa and listened eagerly. My father’s stories were always unique and exceptionally juicy. I considered him to be a great story teller.
After a few minutes of contemplating and fiddling with his thoughts he started, “The people of Kentucky are very lucky. They are sitting on two pots of gold. The horses and the fertile land of Kentucky."
He lit a cigarette, puffed on it for a second and continued, “The land here in our town is so fertile that for years it has been the perfect place to breed Thoroughbred racing horses.”
“What is a Thoroughbred horse father," I interrupted him with concern.
This word seemed to be on so many of my friends lips all the time. I had friends whose fathers were horse trainers, jockeys or horse owners and they kept on using the word ‘Thoroughbred’.
My father laughed for a while, “Oh! Sorry son I need to finish my story and I suggest that your homework for tomorrow is to find out what that means and come and tell me, OK?”
I nodded my head. My father was a generous man by nature but when it came to knowledge, he often wanted people to work hard to find out the answers to their own questions.
“Now let me continue.”
“Horse riding was very popular many years ago. And during the period of slavery, the only black people that enjoyed any form of freedom where those men that could ride horses.
From the 1820s when slaves worked on plantation, if any slave could prove to be a success with horses he was provided with money from the earnings he made at races and treated like a King.
So many black men tried to learn and master how to ride a horse because there was a chance that they could even buy their freedom.”
“Wow,” I exclaimed, “I didn’t know that.”
My father took a small puff on his cigarette and continued, “But then a good thing happened in America for all our black slaves and that was the start of the Civil war.”
“But why is the war a good thing,” I questioned quietly thinking to myself that war was terrible. It caused pain, death and suffering.
“Because my son, it is this Civil war that finally made the black people properly free.”
“Free from what?” I asked looking at my father’s face burst into a quiet smile.
“Free from slavery my son. Now listen boy, let me finish my story and you will understand. Everything will make sense at the end,” he said firmly.
I nodded my head eagerly again waiting for this exciting story to continue. I listened to my father attentively for nearly two hours that night, and I must admit it was most fascinating lesson of black history of horse racing, that I ever learned in my entire life to date.
In years to come, I would narrate to my own children the same story that my father told me, almost word to word.
For the next few years, I read about everything there is to know about horse racing and the Kentucky Derby. I learned that the great American Civil war had started in 1861 and ended in 1865. After the war several freedom towns were created by black people. The main black towns were created in the States of Alabama, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
In my State of Kentucky, two black towns were created which was Camp Nelson and New Zion.
My understanding was that black people created these towns in the hope that they could live there in peace, free from racism and slavery.
My town, New Zion prospered over the years. In less than a decade we had a church, two schools, then a railway road was built and many black men became wealthy through the thoroughbred industry.
Less than twenty miles from the town of New Zion, across broad green fields, dotted into squares and oblong valleys by full-leafed maple, stood the famous race course of Kentucky where black jockeys began to make history. Before I even explain the achievements of Black Jockeys who rode great Thoroughbred horses there, I will give you a little over view of the Kentucky Derby.
The Kentucky Derby was one of the greatest Thoroughbred horse races in the whole of the United States of America with the biggest prize money in the pot for winners. Ironically the races lasted only two minutes and a horse had to be at least three years old to qualify for the race. This race was so important to a lot of outside players including the gambling industries. People could become wealthy overnight if their horse did well in this race. According to my father, the luscious bluegrass field is what helped to breed super horses for the horse owners that lived in Kentucky.
The best thing about horse racing during that period was it eliminated racism. Racism for a short period of time had no place in the horse arena. Black and White horse riders rode together. Black Jockeys had status and wealth in the horse arena.
One lovely Saturday afternoon in 1938, I was sitting on the porch of our little farm house, when my best friend Andrew Parker came to visit me. The porch over-looked a garden of green vegetables which my mother had proudly grown with her hard sweat. I was so engrossed with reading. I was studying in Lumbar College in New Zion. Andrew Parker, my best mate and my older brother were also enrolled in the same college.
Even though I had a passion for history and horses, my grades in College were pretty much average compared to my brother Richard or Andrew.
Unlike Andrew, I was a little lost soul but not without ambition. I still had a dream of becoming a great Jockey.
“Walter Junior, you are reading again,” Andrew interrupted me.
I jumped with shock, unaware that Andrew was right behind me looking into my book.
“I am reading about Oliver Lewis, the first Black Jockey to win the first Kentucky Derby race,” I answered proudly.
Look I showed him the page in the book, Andrew stared at for a while studying the words carefully.
“What a black man winning the Kentucky Derby,” Andrew answered his face swollen with disbelief.
“Yes the first black man to win the first Kentucky Derby”, I repeated.
“Did you know that in the first Kentucky Derby there were five African-American Jockeys and five black horse trainers,” I asked Andrew.
“Gosh, I never knew. That’s a good thing for us, isn’t it,” Andrew sat down beside me.
“Yes Andrew, there was even another Black Jockey called Isaac Murphy that won the Derby three times. Even a young boy of fifteen called Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton won the Derby once.”
“Really, damn, this is really a good achievement by black people,” Andrew responded with a smile, “I see you really know your stuff about horse racing.”
I nodded by head with delight and spoke again, “I do and I want to become a jockey too. I want to win the Kentucky Derby one day,”
Andrew burst out laughing, "OK one step at a time my dear friend. First you need to practise and you don’t have a horse. Why don’t you consider working with horses first,” he suggested.
“Where?” I asked.
I thought of our little farm that only grew vegetables, and raised few hens. We did not have any horses and his suggestion made perfect sense. I was 15 years old and if I wanted to achieve this dream then I had to start somewhere first.
“I know a place where you can start, I will take you there tomorrow,” Andrew beamed.
“Really, where, who?” I jumped again with excitement.
“Easy boy, I will come and get you tomorrow,” Andrew smiled again.
“Just make sure you dress well, the man I want to introduce you to, is a hard man to crack,” he added, "but I have every confidence in you," he smiled and patted me on my back.
Exercise and stable boy at Aragon Race track
It was July in 1939, a couple of weeks before the Kentucky Derby and I was working in the stables when the door to the stable I was cleaning opened without any knock.
It was Dawn Hammock. I was so engrossed with Segus one of the horses that I had not heard Dawn approaching me from behind.
Segus was such a beautiful dark-brown stallion which is a male horse. In the past few months I had grown fond of him. He was one of my favourites. I stroked his seal-brown long neck and admired his strong lean body which was supported by his long strong legs. I had learnt so much about horses since working at Aragon Race Track for the last year.
One of my first lessons that I learnt about horses was understanding the various breeds of thoroughbred horses. The female horse was a mare if she was three years old, while a filly was a female horse that was three years old or younger.
Many horse owners would usually scant the Country farms or race tracks around America, for mares that could be used for breeding potential prize winning horses. This type of female horse was known as a brood mare. A mare usually carried her young foal for three months.
“Walter, my father wants you to take Segus out for one more exercise walk before the race tomorrow,” Dawn crept behind me quietly smiling cheerfully.
“But I have finished for the day,” I protested looking at her delightfully.
I was looking forward to my mother’s supper that evening. My best friend, Andrew and Janet, his new girlfriend, were coming to join me and my family at the dinner table.
Somehow I felt that I to take this matter seriously, for Mr Hammock was a tough Manager to work for.
I had seen him sack and replace so many workers for the last year that I certainly did not want to be the next one on that unfortunate line.
I turned around to face Dawn, “Alright I will take Segus out straight away,” I tried to smile convincingly but I did feel a little sense of frustration as I shrugged my shoulders.
Nevertheless, Dawn was always something to keep your eyes on, both figuratively and literally. I eyed her carefully. She was a composed and poised beauty who looked entirely capable of putting any young man into a permanent state of trance.
She was smiling at me seductively that I tried to peer into her mind but it was impossible to read her. I had to be careful as she was a young white woman. It was a taboo to have inter-racial relationships. There were only a few Black men I knew that dated White women because it came with all sorts of issues. The most common problem was it did not matter if you were white or black but you would suddenly become a bigger victim of discrimantion from your community, if you decided to embark on the inter-racial relationship adventure. You could easily find yourself totally alone, abadoned and isolated by your famaily and community. As a black man, if you fell for a while woman and you had a relationship with her, you either had be completely crazy or absolutely bold and courageous.
I watched Dawn smile at me with her shapely lips curving graciously.
With those delicate lips still curved sweetly on her gentle face, she said, "Ok Walter Junior, anyway my father wants to see you in his office this evening before you leave."
With those words she walked out of the stable so quickly as if her life was in some sudden danger.
I smiled as I watched her backside wiggle at me seductively. She had me lost for one moment in time then quickly I was back to some serious thinking.
What could Mr Hammock want to see me for? I was curious and frightened. For the past year, I had been an exercise and stable boy at the Aragon Race Track in Kentucky.
I had learnt almost everything there was to know about horses in just a short space of time that I could even volunteer to be a horse trainer for any lost soul out there that had some belief in me.
I first started out as a part-time exercise boy here. This meant walking horses for exercises or cooling them down after a race. Sometimes I would walk horses in a circle in the paddock area. This usually provided other people especially owners and gamblers to have a good view of a horse they were going to buy or gamble on.
Six months later after I started, I was promoted to a stable boy and my wage was 15 dollars a week. I dropped out of College after convincing my father that I was going to train as a horse trainer. It was a very difficult argument to win, but my father was also a practical man and realised that I had a genuine interest for this horse trade.
“Son whatever you do. Do it proper!” my father said to me, “Get a proper horse trainer licence. You need it to survive in this line of business so do it right from the start.”
As a stable boy, my day usually started at 6.30am in the morning, when I would clean out stables, check the horses and comb each one of the horse with a fine curry comb. I usually had about 10-15 horses to attend to that time went really quickly. At 7.00pm, my day would end. By this time the horses would have been fed and I would have given all the stables a second cleaning. Perhaps what I now lacked was the practical experience but so far my intial dream of being a jockey had not yet been accomplished.
To my dismay, I realised in the first few weeks of working at ‘Aragon Track Race’, that my chances of ever becoming a Jockey were very slim or almost as good as zero. I was tall and heavy and, to be a successful jockey, onehad to be small and light in weight. My dreams were shattered but I realised it was of no fault of mine. I knew I could not change my genes but in order to be successful in life, one must learn to adapt very quickly to change and have a Plan B. This is why I was already thinking of the next best possible option, which was to be a horse trainer.
I walked into Mr Hammocks Office around 7.30pm. His office was situated in a small luxurious 8 bedroom house not far from the race track. When I finally got to the house I was ushered into his office by his beautiful young assistant, Betty.
Steam from his tea cup dissolved into the air as I observed him concentrating his eyes on a newspaper.
“Good evening Sir,” I spoke quietly standing by the door way - a little frightened of what he may say next.
He eyed me sourly. "Walter, how would you like to travel the race circuits with me in the next couple of weeks?"
“I would love to Mr Hammock,” I answered with suspicion.
Why would he want a stable boy like me to accompany him when there were a few other white stable boys around that worked for him and seemed to have more status than me?
“You look surprised,” he snapped.
“No – Yes - Mr Hammock, I am happy. I am honoured, I would really love to accompany you. I love horses so much Sir,”
He raised his hand, “I Know, Walter. Get ready. We will be leaving two Saturday’s from today to visit the race tracks in Derby and a few other places. I have a couple of horses that I want to enter into the races. Besides you have shown so much potential that I think this trip will do you good.”
When I got home that evening I was full of joy. I was finally going to travel the race tracks and get some practical experience of buying horses and entering horse into a race. I had been waiting for this opportunity for so long.
My mother, father, Andrew and his girlfriend were completely delighted for me as well.
It was Sunday morning and the church was filled with tens of Black families. In New Zion, the Church was a very important part of every black person’s social and religious life. It was almost a compulsory event for every young black man or woman that lived in our community. Most couples discovered themselves in church. If you were a young black man and hoping to get hooked then the best place to get yourelf a girlfriend or wife was the church. By the time you sang praises and turned around during Sundays worship in my church, you would spot many potential single, lovely, candidates in the congregation.
I sat beside the lovely Keisha who I had fancied for the past one year. Her father was a horse owner and rumours had it that she herself owned two fine potential race horses. We listened attentively to the Reverend.
Reverend Peter was a nervous, over-zealous worker. The sermon began.
“My dear fellow, women, men and children, my sermon today is about the Home. So many of you are wondering where is my home so today I am going to take my time and read to you a few words from a famous poet,” Reverend Peter said out loudly.
He took his time and stared at the congregation. In the front row of seats sat Horace Johnson and his white wife and their young beautiful mixed-race daughter. He was a well-known gynaecologist in New Zion. My mother had spoken highly of him on a few occasions.
“Home is within; Home is deep rooted in one’s soul. Home is when you make peace with yourself and return back to earth,” Reverend Peter said.
I was not a great religious fanatic but even those words themselves could move a non-believer.
Shortly after his sermon the choir began singing. A woman in her forties with such a powerful voice led the choir by singing, “Let’s give praise to the Lord”.
After a few powerful songs were belted out by this lady, the choir stopped singing.
A strong pair of hands, far back in the church, came together with an explosive clap. There was genuine applause and I joined excitedly clapping for this talented big woman with a cracking voice. One could call it the voice of an Angel. Some people were gifted by the Lord to sing and this woman was clearly in a different league. Had she been a White American she would have been famous and wealthy but she was just an ordinary church member like all of us, probably struggling with a part-time job for her family - like so many of us.
The clapping went on rolling and crackling through the church defiantly, derisively and appreciatively. Soon the sermons, performances and singing were over.
The people flowed out from the church, full of an expressive contentiousness as if they would now change thier destinies to something extra-ordinarily positive over-night. But it was just a circle and next Sunday there would be a repeat of the same routine. The only thing that changed were the clothes and fashion which made one thing that the day was different. I was outside the entrance of the church by now, watching congregations of men and women chatting away when I spotted Aunty Delware.
“Hello Aunty Delware,” I beamed at the sight of Aunty dressed in some traditional African attire that made her look like an exotic African Queen. Black women in New Zion always took pride in their fashion on Sundays.
“Walter, my dear boy. Look at you, handsome and tall. You have grown up so fast. Are you still an errand boy with horses in that horse farm?” she asked sarcastically.
“Aunty, it’s not an errand boy, it is a stable man. You need to visit me one day and I will show you that this is really a prestigious job to be proud off,” I scanned my eyes outside the church searching for Andrew and Keisha. They had both disappeared off my radar.
“Prestigious,” Aunty laughed out sarcastically, “Don’t forget to tell your father to bring some drinks this afternoon. You are coming to my place for Croquet this afternoon, aren’t you?”
“Yes Aunty,” I replied trying not to look upset.
Aunty Delware had one of the largest houses in New Zion and her garden was equally one to envy. It was so big that one could build a mini-golf course on it.
Every Sunday it was traditional for close families and friends of hers to get together at her house and play Croquet tournaments. Strangely enough, it was an event that I often looked forward to myself. I loved everything about the Croquet tournaments that Aunty Delware used to organise every Sunday in her enormous back garden.
It was not just the skilful play of my cousins and nephews that made the Croquet tournaments exciting.
It was also the soul food that Aunt Delware prepared with the help of her neighbours, families and friends. The food was ever so tasty, surplus and delicious and it brought lots of us families together.
Sunday afternoons in Auntie’s house were always full of laughter and love, that I often even dreamt of the delicious sweet potato pie, curried chicken and roast pork right in the church whenever I drifted off into little daydreams.
Love and Marriage - 1943
It was August, a couple of weeks before I was to travel with Mr Hammock again to visit various race tracks around Kentucky, when my love affair with Keisha Brown commenced.
The sun shone on a lovely bright Sunday afternoon and a few families were congregated in Aunty Delaware’s garden as usual. Her lawn displayed exotic green grass with dozens of hoops and wooden balls positioned around a large green rectangular area of the ground. Andrew had just hit a red wooden ball with his croquet wooden stick and the families were all cheering as we watched his ball go smoothly through a hoop. I clapped my hands as I cheered Andrew for his excellent shot.
It was then that I spotted Keisha at the entrance of Aunty Delaware’s kitchen door. The back door of the kitchen provided a nice scenic view of the garden and one could paint a picture of my brother Kenneth taking his turn to hit his green ball through the hoop. Families were gathered around large three wooden tables chatting away as they tucked away into some curried chicken.
Keisha’s eyes met mine from a distance and we both smiled at each other. Our smiles appeared coded like a secret language entangled in a web of hashed codes which where impossible to decrypt. This was my opportunity to go towards her and have a chat with her which I did shortly. I had admired Keisha for a long time but she was never alone and our conversations were always very general. It was about school or the weather or her family. Keisha's father seemed to be with her everywhere I bumped into them and I often bumped into them at the race tracks around the County as well. Even though I was uncomfortable with this development, I never allowed Keisha's father to sense this for one moment. I always laughed and joked with Keisha's father and Keisha casually and politely, and I put up one of my best acting performances when ever in their company.
I scanned around trying to catch a glimpse of her father but he did not appear to be anywhere in sight, so I seized this precious moment and walked towards her.
Keisha stood watching me approach her and then we greeted each other. We were both quietly just smiling at each other when I decided to make some conversation before I lost the plot.
“Where is your father?” I asked
“He is not feeling very well today. He hurt himself at work,” Keisha replied with a smile gesticulating to me to come into the kitchen, “I promised Aunty that I will help her with the cooking today,” Keisha remarked.
Keisha’s father was a successful business man. he had a popular small African foodstore and a small African cafe in town. He also had his own little horse farm but he was actually a skilled carpenter by profession. He supplied so many people with all sorts of wooden furniture and he was a highly respectable man in our little black community.
“I am sure Aunty will be pleased. You are doing a great job and the food is great”, I grinned.
Aunty Delware always had help from the black Knetucky neighbourhood to organise this Sunday Croquet events.
My face burst again into a defenceless smile, "Well I am sorry to hear that your father is unwell, but at least that allows me to spend some little time with you alone,” I said sheepishly smiling.
Keisha smiled back and held up her glass in a sort of a toast, "Finally to some quality and alone time," she said.
I stared at her lovely black eyes and lips. I had a strong urge to kiss her. She was wearing a white pair of shorts, a short sleeve white blouse and a colourful scarf was wrapped around her neck. She definitely looked hot and fashionable. The fact is she always looked cool to me regardless of what ever she wore. She was the kind of person that could put on an ordinary blouse and make it look like a million dollar blouse.
“Why don’t you take a break and let’s go for a walk by the fields?” I suggested, 'It is such a lovely day to waste. Just look at the beautiful sky,' I blurted out nervously.
Aunty Delaware’s street was a heaven for wild green luscious blue fields.
To my delight keisha agreed to have a walk with me. In a short while, we were walking the path at the back of the aunties’ garden into the wild fields that lay at the back of Aunty Delaware’s house.
Time passed away very quickly that day as we walked slowly and chatted away like two young teenagers that were in love for the very first time.
And soon that time turned into weeks as we started to date each other seriously. We talked, played like little lost kids, sneaked into corners of the roads and fields to kiss. We read books together and we rode horses together. We did everything under the sun that young lovers do, together. A few months later Keisha invited me to her house for the very first time and introduced me to her father as her official boyfriend. For the very first time, I seemed to get the approval of her father as he gave me the best warm hug I had received in ages.
When I was dating Keisha, I never for one moment contemplated marriage. Marriage was for the old and wealthy. At least that is what I thought and I did not fit these criteria at all. I still had long life dreams and so did Keisha. Keisha wanted to be a doctor and I wanted to be that famous horse trainer!
But I had to admit to myself that I was so deeply in love with her. We had so many things in common that even though she was the second girl I ever dated; I did feel she was the one! I felt I had met my soul mate, the person that everyone in life wishes or desires to meet early. There was something about her presence in my life that made my life feel totally complete. It was a magical feeling beyond comprehension or description. Everyone in my family loved Keisha. My brother Kenneth admired Keisha and thought she could ride a horse really good. He had seen her a few times in action on the small race tracks I invited him to. Andrew my friend, thought Keisha was gorgeous, warm and that she had a great heart.
My mother and father thought she had good manners. What fascinated me as well was that Keisha believed in me so much. She believed in my horse dreams and would often visit me at the tracks urging me to look into getting my horse trainer licence as soon as possible.
But no one knew amongst family and friends knew that Keisha and I were also having sexual intercourse.
Keisha would sneak into my home some nights. On other nights I would sneak into her home sometimes and we will spend the night together quietly making love so that no one would hear us. The thought of getting caught frightened me sometimes but we were never caught. I once imagined myself running on the street in the afternoon, fully naked being chased by Keisha’s father holding a machete. Luckily for us my imagination never evolved into reality.
One morning in March in 1940, Keisha came to my home late at night. She looked distressed as she sat on the edge of my bed. I was exhausted. My day had been hectic at Aragon race tracks as Mr Hammock and I were preparing to travel the racing circuits around the County again and that meant a lot of horse preparation. But Keisha looked like she really needed my attention.
“Baby what’s wrong?” I asked her quietly.
“Keisha held her stomach and looked into my eyes deeply and somehow I knew the answer straight away.
“You are pregnant,” I blurted out.
“Yes,” tears streamed down her face, “my father will kill me,” she cried softly.
I embraced Keisha and hugged her tightly while my brain started working over-time.
“Don’t worry we will think of something,” I said as I kissed her lips.
Deep inside I was delighted. Many young men in my neighbourhood were fathers. Some even had children from different girls or women. Now I was joining the club of fathers finally. I also felt that as long as I could persuade Keisha to keep the pregnancy then I had a stronger chance of keeping her as a life soulmate.
By the time it was morning, I was pleased with myself. My brain had come up with the perfect solution after working over-time all night into the morning hour by hour. I looked at Keisha sleeping peacefully beside me. She looked even more beautiful naked with her golden black skin.
“Keisha,” I whispered, “I know what we can do about your pregnancy,” I whispered softly into her ears.
She turned around with her eyes half open and mumbled, “What is it Walter?” she mumbled.
“I am going to marry you;” I said proudly, “Keisha would you marry me?” I asked her staring into her sleepy eyes as I stroked her cheeks with my hand.
Her eyes popped out at she stared at me speechlessly as if I was a crazy young man. And a crazy young man I was!
‘Yes, Yes, Walter,’ Keisha replied.
We evetually got married at New Zion Baptist Church. It was a very small congregation. Keisha’s parents and my parents were at the church but we had no friends present. This arrangement was intentional.
Both our parents had a mutual opinion about our quick marriage. They felt we were ruining our lives by marrying at such an early age. But both our parents’ finally gave their blessing to our marriage.
It had not been easy to persuade my father or Keisha’s father that we were two young people in love that wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.
Keisha’s father eventually gave me support and even promised me a plot of land where I could build a home for me and Keisha.
“I want you to take care of my daughter or I will hunt you down like a wolf sniffs out its victim from the forest”, he laughed jovially after the wedding ceremony.
Shortly after the ceremony we all congregated in my home for some food and drinks and life resumed back to normal the next day.
The only major difference with my life now was that Keisha was staying and living with me in my family home.
One evening a few months after the wedding, Keisha was in enormous pain as she wriggled and squirmed on the floor. I took my father’s farm truck and rushed her to Saint Zion Hospital. By the evening Keisha had given birth to a wonderful, bouncing baby girl. As I held our baby girl in the hospital, I was chuffed to finally be a father.
We called our little daughter Irene. It was Keisha’s idea and like a young man who was blindly in love, I agreed without protesting.
Keisha and I had been married just under a year, so I suppose our official classification was no longer "Newlyweds." You could now call us just ordinary married folks. But the financial strain of our amorous union hit us gradually over the next 10 years.
The financial responsibility of looking after our daughter was not easy even with the financial support from both our parents. I was still working the stables at Aragon Track race but I had not been promoted and I was therefore still a stableman that carried out all sorts of errands. A second baby was on its way again and after that a third. It appeared that either me or Keisha were very fertile.
Twice there was an opportunity for me to become an assistant horse trainer but the job was always given to another stable man at the last minute. Coincidentally Mr Hammock always gave it to another white man even though I was the main person who accompanied him to other race tracks and circuits all year round. I was his right hand man doing everything for him. I showed him so much love and loyalty but when a critical moment came for him to return some love he shoved me aside as if I was a complete stranger.
I tried to remain positive but I knew that I had to supplement my income to support my family. I could see my dream of becoming a famous or successful horse trainer gradually slip away. During these tough times, I had already taken the opportunity to get my trainer license at Aragon Race Track. I tried to get a better job at other farms or race tracks, but jobs were scarce and no one was offering me any horse trainer jobs.
During those hard years my priority was to make some extra money doing odd jobs on the track but even in that area, my luck ran out. There were only few races being put on show at race tracks around the County as illegal betting and racism was beginning to have an impact in the industry of horse racing.
Now and then, I had to starting cutting people’s hair as a barber, for a living during the evenings and weekend. It made ends meet and it was fun. What I did not realise was my life was about to change but I do not give credit to myself at all.
It is strange how you can get wrapped up in your own little world and easily forget your long life dreams.
These are dreams you have built since your childhood. Dreams of rocks and yet the solid foundations of these dreams can crumble when life takes over. But sometimes a complete stranger can see your true potential and revive those long forgotten dreams that once inspired you so much!
Meeting the Black Horse Owner – 1960
I first met Dr. Akeem and Dr. Jamar and Mr. Kalisha the Jockey, in 1960. I was attending a horse-race in Cincinnati, when I noticed three black men, dressed impeccably, laughing out loudly in the audience as if they had won the lottery. The horse races were over for the day and a lot of big money had been involved in this Cincinnati, bi-annual horse race. It was a race where nearly around 500 horses ran in different events all day and bets were made all day as well.
It was a lovely sunny day with a bright blue sky and punters were counting their money everywhere I looked.
Out of curiosity I approached the three black men and we started talking straightaway as if we were long lost friends.
‘Hey my name is Walter. I am a horse trainer, ‘I smiled as I watched Dr. Akeem turn around and give me a look that dressed me up and down.
I had red trainers on and a nice black jumper which displayed my fine tall and strong physique.
‘Ah the famous horse trainer,’ Dr. Akeem stretched his hand to give me a shake.
Dr. Akeem made an immediate impression on me. He looked smartly dressed in a nice brown suit. His short Afro-hair was neat and well cut. He spoke proper English and his accent sounded like a man that originated from one of the famous Hawaiian Islands.
‘Famous!’ I said with a pause thinking about how famous I could possibly be.
Apart from being a poor but famous unofficial black horse trainer, I had become slightly famous in my own right in 1956. Everyone in my local community knew and respected me. This credit was due to me being frustrated about the segregation issues at a school in my local community. I had become a local hero by taking the Scott County Board of Education to court over segregation in schools in my county.
This was not just a personal issue at the time in 1956 but an issue that affected our whole black community. We black people could not understand why there had to be a place in the classroom for white people only, and black people where either banished to evening classes so there was no mixing of cultures in classes, or in many cases black people were not even given admission into certain schools.
It was such a humiliating and demoralizing experience for a black person to go through.
‘Yes we have heard of you on the local circuits and that segregation court case against the Scott County. I am Dr. Akeem and this is my colleague, Dr. Jamar, and business partner,’ Dr. Akeem continued speaking with a smile, ‘and this is Mr. Kalisha our famous winning Jockey for today.’
Dr. Akeem patted the young black man on the back.
I smiled and shook hands with all the three men smiling away. They seemed really nice and friendly.
Dr. Jamar was handsome while Dr. Akeem was quite the opposite with extremely thick lips and a large nose but there was something uniquely charismatic about him.
Mr. Kalisha, the young black jockey could have easily passed for a 20-year-old boy. He was short in height, and wore white pants, black boots and a cream leather jacket. He looked well-dressed and handsome.
‘That was nearly 4 years ago that I took the segregation case to court. It took nearly 2 years before we won that case. I still have nightmares about it,’ I replied, ‘but let’s not revisit that segregation story again, instead share your happy story with me.’
‘OK Walter, our horse just came 3rd in its 14th maiden race and we won a bit of good money,’ Dr. Jamar laughed happily’, ‘finally we can race our horse ‘in other races.’
‘Good money,’ Dr. Akeem laughed out loud, ‘Dr. Jamar you say that with such modesty. We won $3000. I have never made so much money in 3 minutes.’
I observed the three happy faces and I was quite pleased for them, ‘That is good and who was your jockey?’ I asked.
‘Oh it is Kalisha right here, he is such a talented young black man. Look he made us some good dollars today and by God’s grace he will continue to cook and fry us some more dollars in the next horse races,’ Dr. Jamar and Dr. Akeem were beaming with joy as he patted Kalisha on his back again.
‘Congratulations so your horse is now breaking the maiden,’ I laughed.
The first race anyone was allowed to enter their horse was the maiden races and even these maiden races were tough competition. Everyone wanted their horse to come 1st to 3rd in these races because it was only then you could enter your horse in the big money races.
‘This horse business is very good. I am actually going to go into this horse racing business full-time - there is real money here to be made,’ Dr. Akeem seemed to make a sudden decision.
I laughed at his enthusiasm, ‘yes but you would need a very good horse trainer to stand a chance in the real stake races. You cannot just rely on good luck all the time with a horse or jockey,’ I responded.
‘Well you should meet Dr. Horace Johnson and your deflated opinion on luck may change. This man has taken horse gambling to another level and has even bought a horse stable to begin to breed race horses having won over $50,000 on the tracks just this year alone without a horse trainer,’ laughed Dr. Akeem.
I looked at Dr. Akeem with astonishment and felt this story was slightly over-exaggerated
I spent the next 30 minutes joking and laughing with the men and then I headed back home in my beautiful red truck. Later that evening I reflected on the day and thought about the man they called Dr. Horace Johnson.
Dr Horace Johnson was a man whose name I had heard of more than once over the last decade. Rumours had it that he came from Bahamas and he had settled down as doctor in the town of Cincinnati. He was a resident of Saint Mount Hospital.
After a few years he moved to New Zion to set up his own practice and married his present wife who coincidentally was also a resident at Saint Mount Hospital where they first met.
His marriage to a White American caused so much conflict and gossip both amongst White and Black community. Many people in the community felt he had sold his soul to the devil. Also many White people felt betrayed by Mary’s acceptance of a black man as her husband. And it was not long before his mixed race children began popping out on the scene which created further controversial gossip on the subject of mixed race children.
I wondered why the three men I met today thought Dr Horace was lucky but soon I was to find out.
When I was first told that Dr Horace wanted to have a meeting with me by Dr. Jamar, I was a little bit flattered and curious.
‘Yes Dr Horace wants to see you badly. He has a proposition for you. I told him about our meeting at the Cincinnati race track, last weekend and he is very excited and wants to meet you almost immediately. He is happy to invite you for dinner or we can arrange to meet him at another place of your convenience,’ said Dr. Jamar
It was 1960, and due to financial reasons I had begun to offer my services as a full time barber at the back yard of my home.
I was charging about $1-2 for a haircut. During a good week like the end of the month, which was considered pay-day for most Afro-Americans, I had about 30–40 customers but during a bad week I sometimes had as little as 5 customers.
‘The man wants to meet you badly, Walter. You should give him a chance,’ Dr. Jamar spoke firmly as I cut his hair in a nice low-cut style.
Since last week all the three men I recently met in Cincinnati, had booked a haircut with me. I felt I needed to share part of their $3000 by getting my share from giving them neat and creative haircuts.
‘But what for? I wonder why this man wants a meeting with me?’ I answered back aggressively.
I watched Keisha, my wonderful wife come out of our small rented house with a tray of two tea cups.
I smiled, my wife had grown into a wonderful beautiful woman and we were expecting our third child.
‘He said something about training some horses in his stable and entering the big stake races,’ Dr. Jamar replied as he interrupted my thoughts.
For the last ten years, my life was ridiculed with little ups and downs but Keisha had made my life worth living. Even though I was just working in the odd stable here and there, I was fully content with life.
Still deep inside me grew a small hunger to still try and pursue the dream I once had ten years ago but the question I had was, ‘Where would I start?’
A week later, I agreed to meet Dr. Horace Johnson for dinner at his home.
The evening I went to visit Dr Horace, he opened his front door and ushered me into his home with a smile and a warm handshake. Almost immediately without wasting time he started talking going straight to the point.
‘I'm right glad to see you Mr Walter Junior,’ said Dr. Horace.
‘The honour is mine,’ I returned mechanically.
‘I want to offer you a job or let me put it this way. It could be a successfully partnership if we work together as a team,’ he was as frankly direct as the wind, or sun.
‘You know,’ he continued, his great eyes, half-closed, ‘I hear you have been working at that Aragon Tracks for ten years. When I heard you were coming home——'
‘Actually it is eleven years,’ I interrupted
‘Ok let me tell you a little bit more about my proposal,’ he added, staring at me with a peculiar smile twisting his lips.
‘I don’t know if you heard but I have bought a stable and it is big enough to accommodate at least 20 race horses. I only have 4 solid stallion horses at present and they have each made me very good money,’ Dr Horace smiled as we sat down at the dinner table.
‘That is amazing Dr. Horace. Can you show me your stable after dinner?’ I responded quickly.
‘Listen Walter cut out the formality and address me as Horace and yes of course I was never going to let you leave after dinner without showing you my most prized possessions,’ he smiled at me and that was it – I was hooked.
I spent a long time chatting with him all evening. His wife joined us later and it was a beautiful evening with afro-music playing in the background of their living room. I was later shown a large stable not far from his home. It was large and had 4 beautiful horses living in it.
The whole conversation that evening was very interesting. Horace spoke about me becoming his horse trainer and he was to give me money so I could scout the Country for more race horses that we train and enter in big money stake races. I was also entrusted with training at least 2 jockeys who would work for Horace permanently. I was a little bit sceptical but by the end of the night I was so convinced his dream would work that I resigned the very next day at my job and began to work almost immediately for Dr. Horace.
It was 2 weeks into my new job with Dr. Horace. And on this fine beautiful sunny afternoon I was with Aunty Delaware. We had been driving for about 1 mile in Aunty Delaware’s new car.
My aunt was the proud owner of a Hillman superminx car. It had a white roof and the body of the car was glittering red. She had a heater and a radio fitted in the little car, which was considered a luxury at our time.
Your Uncle and I have decided to give you a plot of land near your favourite tracking ground, Keeneland, as a gift. We think it is about time you built a decent home and had a little land to grow your own food for the family.
Aunty I screamed. Are you kidding me or are you serious?
‘Yes, Walter we are serious - your parents know about this already as we discussed this a week ago with them but we wanted to surprise you, Uncle Delaware spoke briefly as he concentrated on driving slowly.
They suddenly stopped by some some grassy land on top of a hill where one from a distance could see the Keeneland race course tracks. We got out of the car and walked for a bit and then I was shown my new plot of land. I was so overjoyed as I hugged my Aunty.
This is where I will take my time and build a new home for me and Kiesha and my children. Overnight my life’s journey had taken a new direction and I was not sure of anything but I was confident that I was surrounded with so much love and support from all directions.
I prayed much longer that night as I gave ‘Thanks’ to the ‘Great One!’.
(Chapter 5 & 6 - Coming out on the 31st of April 2018)