Westport’s Lawn Jockey: Really?!

Tuesday’s post — about a soccer get-together with suburban Westport and inner-city New York teams — drew plenty of positive comments.

Today’s — about a black-faced lawn jockey at a home near Clinton Avenue — probably won’t.

An African American Westporter noticed it the other day. She takes frequent walks around town; this was a new route.

“I just saw it sitting there on the lawn,” she says, still outraged.

Lawn jockey

The lawn jockey near Clinton Avenue.

Her first reaction was: “Really? Really?!”

She’d never seen anything like it here. In fact, she says, the last time she’d seen a black lawn jockey was around 1979, in her home state of Ohio.

Black-faced lawn jockeys are not mere decorations, like garden gnomes. As the Washington Post noted in 2006:

He’s a ghost from the days of plantations and magnolias, fox hunts and manorial estates.

To some, particularly African Americans, the lawn jockey is a pint-size monument to repugnant stereotypes, a holdover from the days of slavery and Jim Crow, an artifact of racial prejudice alongside Aunt Jemima.

“When I see it, it hearkens back to a time when black people were enslaved,” the Westporter says. “It seems like the people who put it there are saying, ‘This is what we wish for.'”

Many lawn jockeys reinforce racial stereotypes.

Many lawn jockeys reinforce racial stereotypes.

What about the argument that the homeowners may not realize how offensive the Civil War-era artifact may be?

“It’s time for people to be educated,” she counters.

“I know we can’t PC the entire world. But we have to teach people this is not acceptable. It’s not cool.

“You can say whatever you want, privately. But to publicly say that you’re superior to others — that others can be your little joke — that’s not okay.”

The final line of Tuesday’s post was: “Westport, Connecticut may not be representative of America. But neither is Ferguson, Missouri.”

Today, it’s: Westport, Connecticut may not be representative of America. But sometimes even our town can seem like Mississippi.

28 responses to “Westport’s Lawn Jockey: Really?!

  1. i saw two others on my walk Sunday on Ferry Lane E – one right before you take the turn to go towards the train bridge, and one at the end before you get on the train bridge.

  2. Dan, you may be wrong that there are no positive comments to this article today. I’m proud of the woman who alerted you to this racist statue and of you for sharing it on “06880”. The Santayana quote comes to mind: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Your blog helped us to remember what slavery did to human beings, and this lawn jockey is an outrage.

  3. A. David Wunsch

    A suggestion: if I were this person’s neighbor I would equip some neighborhood kids with cans of white spray paint and make some subtle hints about where they might be used on Halloween.
    A. David Wunsch
    Staples High School , 1956

    • I disagree with my brother David. Kids should not be going around spray painting things. But there should be discussion with them and with these homeowners about these statues. Has anyone talked to them? I begin with the premise that many people are unaware of the meaning of things like this.

  4. I remember seeing them when I was growing up in Westport in the 1950s and 1960s. They did seem to be very old (“antiques”) and as a child, they felt disturbing to me but I didn’t quite understand why (yet). Some people actually re-painted the faces white, to simply represent a generic hostler. There were similar ones with horse-heads, etc. (all meant to be a place a visitor could tie up a horse). I’m startled to hear the “blackface” ones are still around!! I was active in the Civil Rights movement (with Tracy Sugerman, et al.) and consciousness was still slow to grow (in the 1950s and early ’60s, there was still legal segregation — that is, in my lifetime!). The beloved “Y” was of course originally the Young Men’s Christian Association (no Jewish people — or women!!). I’m thankful we are evolving as a culture.

  5. I use Clinton as a short cut from time to time and have seen that statue many times. Each time I do I think, “Really? They either have a lot of nerve or no sense at all…and if they think because they live in New England where we celebrate the past with our personal collections of antiques and so forth, they are way, way off base…” Also, I feel nauseous. I am so sorry.

  6. Wow– also interesting that the link provided for the African American lawn jockey mugs have almost all 5 star reviews of the product. What are they rating so highly? So obviously, there are still people around who give this kind of thing “5 stars.” Really messed up. My husband and I watched Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? with Sidney Poitier the other night – that movie always reminds me of Westport because we went to see it at the now gone Westport movie theatre and it was a time in history some of us won’t forget. Anyways, Sidney says to his father – “get off our backs.” He said something more painful that I won’t repeat here but these attitudes have to get off our backs.

  7. Eric Buchroeder SHS '70

    Just noticed that the lawn jockey coffee mugs are printed in thermochromic ink which change from black to white when filled with a hot liquid. How symbolic!! Racist until heat is applied then, poof!!!! It’s gone.

  8. Kristeen Mills Sabados

    It is in stock and the lead time is 4-6 weeks. Price is $4495.00 for everything.

    Sent from my iPad


  9. Kevin Betancourt

    I think it’s great. We, as Americans, are always so quick to whitewash our shameful history – this lawn jockey is a reminder of the struggles African Americans overcame. Instead of sending you kids to vandalize it, maybe you should use it as a learning opportunity – explaining to them what it means, and why some people find it offensive instead of historical. Not all history is pleasant, removing it is insulting to those who had to suffer through it. If it’s removed and you don’t see it, doesn’t mean that history didn’t happen. I would thank the owner who has it prominently displayed.

    • A. David Wunsch

      For Kevin: : Why not ask members of Westport’s (small) black community if they would like to see such statues displayed on their neighbor’s lawn.?
      A. David W.
      Staples 1956

    • Yes, American Rights are so freaking confusing.
      One minute there is screaming about one’s property rights. The next minute there is screaming about neighbours, neighbours who have the same rights.
      Why can’t you all just get along? (I still wonder why the need to differentiate racial makeup?)
      Why can’t you ignore what you don’t like or agree with?
      What went wrong, America?

      Ignore the stupid statue.

  10. This is foreign to me. The only statuary I can think of in my neighbourhood is one Buddha.

  11. Actually, I now recall seeing from afar what appeared as a life-size Venus de Milo near the home’s front door. Too bad the statue didn’t suit the architecture. So tacky, isn’t it?

  12. Outside of commenting how I agree that this statue is horribly offensive – is there anything I can do to let the owner know how offensive this is? I’m sorry – this isn’t just a “tacky” piece of lawn ornamentation – I think it’s no different that displaying a swastika on your lawn. It may be protected by the 1st Amendment and private property laws, but there has got to be a way to let the owner know what kind of message they are sending and how poorly it reflects on our town.

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

      It is offensive, tasteless and unnecessary but its NOT the same as a swastika. It reflects poorly on its owner, no more, no less. I’m old enough to remember when “negro servant statues” were all the rage in upscale Westport neighborhoods (back in prehistoric days when upscale Westport neighborhoods were not ALL Westport neighborhoods). Except for this quaint remnant, those stirring days of yesteryear were over 50 years ago. I suggest we check back in 90 days and see if the owner is a reader of Dan’s blog (assuming they can read).

  13. There’s one on High Gate Road, too.

    Westport is 89.9% white, which makes it whiter than South Dakota. So while I appreciate the appropriate concern about the offensive lawn ornament, let’s not otherwise congratulate ourselves on our community diversity.

  14. Andrew McKibbins

    I would love to see a follow up to this story to see if anyone had the nerve to knock on their door.

  15. Origin of the Lawn Jockey

    “The story begins the icy night in December 1776 when General George Washington decided to cross the Delaware River to launch a surprise attack on the British forces at Trenton. Jocko Graves, a twelve-year-old African-American, sought to fight the Redcoats, but Washington deemed him too young and ordered him to look after the horses, asking Jocko to keep a lantern blazing along the Delaware so the company would know where to return after battle. Many hours later, Washington and his men returned to their horses that were tied up to Graves, who had frozen to death with the lantern still clenched in his fist. Washington was so moved by the young boy’s devotion to the revolutionary cause he commissioned a statue of the ‘Faithful Groomsman’ to stand in Graves’s honor at the general’s estate in Mount Vernon.” 1

    -River Road African American Museum in Louisiana.

  16. A Guide to Freedom

    Jockey statues marked Underground Railroad

    Most people shudder at the sight of a black lawn jockey.
    Though sightings are pretty infrequent today, the yard ornaments that portray blacks in subservient roles have the power to gnaw insatiably at the spirit of blacks and to disgust others who are unaware of the furtive and notable role these “Jockos” played in the first half of the 19th century.

    But escaping slaves understood then that the jockey statue would guide them to the Underground Railroad and to freedom. (In Following the Drinking Gourd, the lyrics surreptitiously suggested slaves follow the “drinking gourd,” a nickname for the Big Dipper, which pointed to the North Star and the way to freedom. Among other things, it advised that travel was safest in the spring – “when the sun comes back.”)

    The jockey, in a similarly secret way, pointed to safe houses along the Underground Railroad.

    “These statues were used as markers on the Underground Railroad throughout the South into Canada,” said historian/author Charles Blockson, curator of the Afro-American Collection at Temple University in Philadelphia. “Green ribbons were tied to the arms of the statue to indicate safety; red ribbons meant to keep going.”

    “People who don’t know the history of the jockey have feelings of humiliation and anger when they see the statue,” he added. “But this figure which was sometimes used in a clandestine nature, and sometimes without the knowledge of the person who owned the statue, was a positive and supportive image to American-Americans on the road to freedom.”

    Sometime, added Blockson, a flag was put into the hand of the statue to indicate safety.

    Statues now collectibles