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What is a Lawn Jockey?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 July 2014
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A lawn jockey is a small statue of a man who is reaching out to catch a horse. He may hold a metal ring or a lantern, and either stands upright on in a slightly slouched position with an arm extended. There are two distinct versions of the lawn jockey and they are common ornaments in people’s front yards. Size may be miniaturized, but more common size is two to three feet (.61-91m) or taller.

There are two main types of lawn jockey. Jockeys depicted could be either elegant males, usually Caucasian, in fine riding clothes. This is called the cavalier spirit jockey. A second type, the jocko style, shows a person in a slightly slouched position that is often African American. In fact, early lawn jockeys often had exaggerated African American features, and instead of wearing riding clothes, these figures might carry them. Both types could be painted, but those representing African American figures were often painted with loud colors.

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Though the initial use of the African American lawn jockey is considered to be ugly and racist, the jockeys are tied to some important parts of black history in the US. During the years when the Underground Railroad was in existence, lawn jockeys could be used to signal safe houses for people escaping slavery. People might tie green ribbons to the arm of a lawn jockey to signify safety, and red ones to warn people not to stop. Though the representation of the African American male was a caricature, it also helped to become a symbol of the fight for freedom. People may view jocko lawn jockeys with mixed feelings as a result of this dual history.

Although the jocko style can still be purchased in some places, it is generally considered in poor taste to have one. Instead, when people want a lawn jockey for their lawn, they usually purchase the cavalier spirit jockey, which forgoes most racist connotations. It’s possible to buy cavalier spirit jockeys from a variety of locations in gardening stores, some home supply stores, and on many Internet sites.

Though many lawn jockeys in early days were painted, today, some may prefer a more muted lawn jockey. It is possible to find unpainted statues, usually made of metal or concrete. There are a few statues made of plastic, and these may be far less expensive, though they can be a little harder to find. Like the pink flamingo, the lawn jockey is thought a unique piece of Americana. However, its origins are more muddied by a very serious part of the American past.

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Discuss this Article

Soulfox
Post 2

@Logicfest -- it seems like a bit of an overreaction, particularly where the white jockeys are concerned. I do wonder if people actually have that negative of a reaction to a lawn ornament that was put in place by someone not out to offend anyone.

Logicfest
Post 1

Good luck finding one of these for sale anywhere these days. Seriously. In a lot of parts of the United States, people don't see black lawn jockeys or white lawn jockeys -- they just see lawn jockeys and think of racism immediately.

The legend behind the jocko one is that many of them were cast with the jockey holding just a ring to show how obedient a slave jocko was. His master told him to hold his horse and not move, jocko didn't move. He simply stood there and froze to death even after the horse had wandered off. I don't know how true that story is, but the legend has been around for generations and that is exactly what a lot of people think about when they see a lawn jockey.

That being the case, it is little wonder that all lawn jockeys simply offend people as soon as they see them.

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