Katherine C. Mooney is a historian of the nineteenth-century United States. She holds degrees from Amherst College and Yale University. She teaches history at Loyola University in New Orleans. She is the author of Race Men: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made At the Racetrack. Her latest work is Isaac Murphy: The Rise and Fall of a Black Jockey.
About Isaac Murphy: The Rise and Fall of a Black Jockey
Isaac Murphy, born enslaved in 1861, still reigns as one of the greatest jockeys in American history. Black jockeys like Murphy were at the top of the most popular sport in America at the end of the nineteenth century. They were internationally famous, the first African American superstar athletes—and with wins in three Kentucky Derbies and countless other prestigious races, Murphy was the greatest of them all.
At the same time, he lived through the seismic events of Emancipation and Reconstruction and formative conflicts over freedom and equality in the United States. And inevitably he was drawn into those conflicts, with devastating consequences.
Katherine C. Mooney uncovers the history of Murphy’s troubled life, his death in 1896 at age thirty-five, and his afterlife. In recounting Murphy’s personal story, she also tells two of the great stories of change in nineteenth-century the debates over what a multiracial democracy might look like and the battles over who was to hold power in an economy that increasingly resembled the corporate, wealth-polarized world we know today.
“Deeply and impressively researched. . . . Ms. Mooney pieces together a narrative with an arc so tight and clean that it’s a wonder it actually happened. . . . It reads, in other words, like a novel, and that is because the author brought not just rigor, but craft.”—Max Watman, Wall Street Journal