Op-Ed

Honor legendary black jockey, genesis of idea for his memorial

Jim Embry, founder of Sustainable Communities Network, serves on the board of the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden.
Jim Embry, founder of Sustainable Communities Network, serves on the board of the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden.

October 19-24, prior to the Breeders Cup, we will have numerous opportunities to learn about the legacy of Isaac Murphy, one of Lexington's most courageous and accomplished native sons.

These events are a continuation of activities held in April before the Kentucky Derby that were anchored around presentations by Emory University professor Pellom McDaniels, author of The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy. McDaniels returns to Lexington for a visit that will include several public presentations as well as talks with students, all focused around his exhibition at the Lyric Theatre.

The events, under the theme "Celebrating Isaac Murphy," also include performances of Frank X Walker's play, I Dedicate This Ride, and the unveiling of Isaac Murphy memorials at the Kentucky Horse Park, African Cemetery No. 2,, and the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden.

Inspired by McDaniels' book and his visit, more than 10 organizations have joined together to give recognition to the black lives that mattered so much in making Lexington the Horse Capital of the World. Becky Ryder, director of the Keeneland Library and convener of our planning committee, stated, "This diverse and timely collaborative effort feels like a harmonic convergence."

One of the most pivotal developments that led to this convergence was the community-based movement to establish the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden. The idea was birthed in the fall of 2006 when Bruce Mundy and I, representing the Northeast Lexington Initiative, were asked to provide a community-service project for Leadership Lexington. Having worked together in Lexington's East End since the 1970s, we were also inspired by the work of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston and the art garden movement in Detroit, where I had lived for five years.

We had already named a project on North Limestone Street the Mary Britton Community Art Garden in honor of Lexington's first African-American female physician, who lived on North Upper Street. So, with the 2010 World Equestrian Games in mind, we jumped at this request and proposed a horse industry-related community project.

On Oct. 9, 2006 we presented our design framework for this now beautiful site which sits on the actual foundation footprint of the home of Isaac and Lucy Murphy. The word "memorial" is also a way to remember the many other African-American jockeys and community people who made racing possible. We chose "art garden" to connote a place where art and plants provide an interactive space that brings together past, present and future.

On Oct. 22 at 3:30 p.m. everyone is invited to help unveil four beautiful interpretive panels at the art garden. Other panels will be placed along the Legacy Trail.

During the groundbreaking event July 14, 2014, Mayor Jim Gray, Congressman Andy Barr and the other speakers recognized many contributors to this project but did not acknowledge our contributions to this important landmark that anchors the Legacy Trail.

It seems like the powers-that-be have chosen to revise history and bury our contributions, much like the foundation stones of Murphy's home. Does history repeat itself?

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