When Pellom McDaniels III was researching black athletes and their influence on the 20th century, he kept running across the name Isaac Murphy. One article referred to Murphy as "an elegant specimen of manhood."
"That, for me, was intriguing," said McDaniels, a faculty curator of African American Collections and assistant professor of African American Studies at Atlanta's Emory University and a former NFL player.
Murphy was born near Frankfort and was the first American jockey to be elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. His success as a jockey came during a small window of time, after the Civil War, when the world was full of opportunity for blacks, McDaniels said.
McDaniels strove to find the basis of Murphy's gentlemanly personas. His research resulted in The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy, which was published in 2013 by University Press of Kentucky.
McDaniels will be in Lexington this week to discuss his book and Murphy.
The Lexington visit is part of the Keeneland Library Lecture Series, said Becky Ryder, Keeneland's library director who organized the visit and is hosting McDaniels.
"We like to feature authors and books that have used the Keeneland library for their research," said Ryder who added that McDaniels spent a lot of time there.
Ryder reached out to the Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center to use its auditorium for his presentation, thinking it would be a large draw. The theater agreed. Now involved in the visit are the Kentucky Horse Park and the International Museum of the Horse, William Wells Brown Neighborhood Association, Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice, the history department of the University of Kentucky College of Arts & Sciences, and the First African Foundation.
"One event has now transformed into three days of events with five public events," Ryder said. McDaniels' visit will include lectures on his book and an in-depth look into the life of Murphy.
"He made Lexington his home and was proud of that," Ryder said about Murphy. He really believed in the equine athlete and raised the bar, she said.
"His success as a jockey wasn't necessarily reduced to some natural God-given ability," McDaniels said, adding that Murphy worked hard.
"He was responsible for changing horse racing," McDaniels said, explaining that because of the money Murphy was able to earn, the laborer position of jockey became a middle-class occupation.
McDaniels' research revolves around black athletes and their historical, economic, social and political influences, as well as the impact and importance of sports for blacks. His interest stems from his experiences as an athlete — he played for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Falcons — and trying to understand why black men, in particular, pursue sports.
"Sports changed from the 19th century to the 20th century," McDaniels explained, saying that for a brief time after the Civil War, blacks competed in the same arena with whites.
Eventually, to maintain the status quo of inequality, blacks were prevented from competing and were excluded. Murphy's career unraveled when Jim Crow segregation laws became the law of the land, and blacks were pushed out of jockeying.
During his visit to Lexington this week. McDaniels will be back at the Keeneland Library doing more research, and promoting Murphy.
One of McDaniels' favorite places in Lexington is Third Street Stuff, a coffee shop at Third Street and North Limestone.
During a visit there while he was working on his book, "When I was standing outside of it, I was remembering that this was the course of Isaac Murphy's funeral procession," McDaniels said. "Standing there, looking at that space, it's really awe-inspiring when you're looking at the history."