Raleigh Colston, Jr.: The Last African American Trainer of an Era, 1911

Mar 29th 2017 12:37 am |

Raleigh Colston Sr. trained Kingfisher, the 1870 Belmont Stakes and Travers winners, and the 1883 Kentucky Derby Leontus. Like many successful horsemen of his era, Colston was African American. His son, Raleigh Colston Jr., rode as a jockey for his father. He was listed as such in the 1880 edition of Kirk’s Guide to the Turf. Colston Jr. rode Searcher in the inaugural run of the Kentucky Derby in 1875. At some point in the early 1880s he took over as trainer for Colonel Jack Chinn, one of his father’s primary clients.

A 1908 profile of Colston Jr. in the Daily Racing Form under the headline “Most Skillful of Colored Trainers” offered details of his career:

In the good days of racing in Chicago, during the existence of Washington Park and with Hawthorne and Harlem in full swing, race horses trained by Raleigh Colston more than held their own. The horses ran under the name of the Kentucky Stable and the old Jordan Stable and Colonel Jack Chinn, Morgan Chinn, Kit Chinn and George W. Morgan were all more or less identified with them. They won many good races including the 1893 World’s Fair Stakes for two year-olds with Lissak…

…Raleigh Colston is now not quite forty seven years old having been born on July 28 1861. He is however still a young man both in physique and mentality. It is always a pleasure to listen to a first class horseman relate incidents of his exciting career…

…Many other triumphs have been achieved by this able negro trainer who as a boy rubbed the great Leonatus which was never beaten as a three year old and which broke down a short time after Colonel Jack [Chinn] had refused a fortune for him offered by ‘Plunger’ Walton. John McGinty was the trainer of Leonatus. [This is an error, Colston Sr. is listed in the official record as Leonatus’s trainer when he won the 1883 Kentucky Derby]

“The first good horse trained by me was Ban Fox.” said Colston yesterday in a conversation recalling some of the great days of the past. Ban Fox was sold by Chinn and partner to J. B. Haggin for $20,000. About nine years ago Colston took service with Mr [Frederick A.] Forsythe and has been with him since then. He also trained for W. F. Schulte of Louisville…”

Another profile of Colston, published one year prior in 1907, focused on his career as a jockey and a $25,000 sale of a colt that he trained. It ran in newspapers in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles and likely appeared elsewhere. In that article, it wrote of Colston’s place in racing at the time:

When it is considered that the days of colored jockeys and trainers have almost passed out of memory of the present generation of racegoers, Raleigh Colston is just now a prominent figure in turf training circles. Brown Dick [Edward D. Brown], Albert Cooper and other famous trainers of his race have almost been forgotten, but Colston still illustrates the ‘survival of the fittest’ in mankind as well as in horseflesh.

In spite of Colston’s accomplishments and his family’s legacy in American racing, when the article appeared in the Los Angeles Herald it ran under the following headline:

A racial slur boldly in a headline of a newspaper. Hard to believe in 2017 but a clear sign of the times in 1907. In spite of Colston’s career, it did not shield him from the prevailing racism rampant in America at the time.

Some might dismiss the racism of this headline by saying it was just the ‘way people talked back then.’   While that might be true, it implies an ignorance to the actions connected with the language. Consider this: In 1911, four years after this insult, Colston saddled a horse he owned, aptly named Colston, to a third place finish in the Kentucky Derby. It would be another seventy-eight years before a black man would train a Kentucky Derby starter. (Hank Allen with Northern Wolf in 1989.)

Marginalizing people through slurs like ‘darkey’ played a role in easing racing’s slow decline of African American participation that started over a decade before Mr Colston saddled his runner in the 1911 Derby. Of course, it wasn’t just language in newspapers. It was action on the part of white jockeys and the lack of action by wealthy owners, backed by a widely accepted pseudo-science that offered “proof” of white superiority, that led to the exclusion of blacks from the sport. Evidence of this can be found in the following headline from the Washington Post in 1907:

While this particular article was about black jockeys, it’s viewpoint about race permeated the country and the world of racing:

Horsemen ascribe the passing of the colored riders to the fact that it is no longer considered ignoble to be a jockey, and the money to be made in the profession has drawn boys of good family to essay [attempt] to learn the art of riding. So the white jockey is crowding out the colored riders, as the paleface is pressing back the red men of the plains.

According to this, when white people decided working as a jockey (and we can assume trainers) was a worthy occupation, the inherent superiority of white’s intellect (see the headline) drove African Americans out of the sport. Really? A claim that falls apart when looking at the overt racism backed by threats and acts of violence during the era against black riders. This wasn’t just in racing, the bigotry in other popular sports, in particular boxing and baseball, is well documented. If you need an example in boxing, see the sad story of heavyweight champion Jack Johnson.

There has been a lot of talk about political correctness in the past few years. I agree, it is sometimes used as an excuse to avoid uncomfortable or difficult topics. However, a lack of what we now call political correctness, evident in the sources here and found in countless other sources of the era, has real world consequences. African Americans played a prominent role in horse racing both as slaves and free men for most of this country’s history. In less than two decades, starting around 1890, they disappeared and the sport has yet to recover.

Looking at what happened during the first ten years of the 1900s and what is happening now, one wonders how long Latino participation in racing can persevere in the current climate? Will the wealthy class who pay the bills in the sport turn their backs on the growing hostility towards Latinos as they did with African Americans over a century ago?

 

SOURCES, NEWS, & NOTES

“Negro Jockey’s Day has Passed,” Los Angeles Herald, 14 August 1905.

“Negro Rider on Wane,” The Washington Post, 20 August 1905.

“Tale of the Turf: A $30,000 Coup,” Washington Evening Star, 9 June 1907.

“Sale of Montgomery is Credit to Old Darkey,” Los Angeles Herald, 7 July 1907.

“Most Skillful of Colored Trainers,” Daily Racing Form, 30 April 1908.

“Hank Allen: From the Diamond to the Derby: Former Baseball Player is First Black Trainer at Churchill Downs Since 1911,” Los Angeles Times, 1989 May 1.

While I have given the sad end of African Americans in racing some coverage on Colin’s Ghost, it is a subject that I have not given significant attention.  I have read most of the major works about the topic and have studied race in America in other venues but a recent publication has been a real inspiration. Katherine C. Mooney’s Race Horse Men is an astounding work building on Edward Hotaling’s The Great Black Jockeys. Mooney’s research alone puts her work among the best pieces of racing history I have ever read. Needless to say, I highly recommend it.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in African American jockeys,horse racing,horse racing history



7 Responses to “Raleigh Colston, Jr.: The Last African American Trainer of an Era, 1911”

  1. Ron Micetic says:

    Another terrific piece, Kevin. Thank you.

  2. Allan Carter says:

    Check out all the horses with “nigger” in their names. Not only did this practice continue into the 1920’s, but some of the biggest stables in the country, both north and south, participated in this practice.

    Allan Carter, Historian
    National Museum of Racing

  3. Susan Prince says:

    Thank you so much for an interesting article. I love your blog. My step-grandfather was Marshall Lilly – a well respected African American trainer who started as an exercise boy and jockey during this time. He was a fantastic horseman who started eventually became a trainer with the Whitney’s in NJ. I spent many Saturday afternoons with him at the track (Monmouth Park) and enjoyed every moment.

    I love reading about this lost time as it was such an important part of American culture – even though racism was (and continues to be) a huge obstacle to the success of black horsemen. Such a loss of talent and passion.

    Thanks.

  4. Kevin Martin says:

    Ron: Thank you for the kind words!

    Allen: I appreciate the contribution. Yes, a shameful history for racing and the Jockey Club.

    Susan: I have been researching Mr Lilly off and on for a few years. Your comment made my day and I would love to speak you further!

  5. Vic Lespinasse says:

    Another in a great list of interesting articles. Keep up the good work!!

  6. Paul Joseph Pluth says:

    I have researched this phenomenon ever since reading Mr. Hotaling’s masterpiece. It took subscribing to pay newspaper archives to learn that the situation was a little bit different than what modern fans have come to believe.

    What I found deserves another piece of scholarship. For, it seems, there were black jockeys riding around the country all through the purported absence. I found instances in the 1920s and 1930s where such riders won four races in a day.

    On Sept 6, 1930, the apprentice Rufus Simpson won four at Dade Park. In the newpaper writeup, the reporter was respectful. He noted, “Simpson, through his daring and horsemanship, gained a warm spot in the devotees of Dade Park racing, and each time that he came back to the winner’s circle, he was greeted with a large and continuous round of applause.”

    Now, there is no question that racism impacted the sport. But there never was outright banishment. I wish that some scholar would delve deeper than I have done, and collect the names of these steadfast athletes. Because, the lore is different from the reality. Their exploits deserved to be showcased, instead of written off by groupthink as never happening.

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