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The lawn ornament, popular in certain parts of the United States in years past,[when?] was a cast replica, usually about half-scale or smaller, usually of a man dressed in jockey's clothing and holding up one hand as though taking the reins of a horse. The hand sometimes carries a metal ring (suitable for hitching a horse in the case of solid concrete or iron versions) and in some cases a lantern, which may or may not be operational.
Originally a welcoming symbol to guests and providing to those on horseback with a practical and novel hitching post, later statues eventually became only decorative and not well suited for hitching a horse, often favored by those wishing to evoke an Old South or equestrian ambiance.
Historically, black jockeys were commonplace. Several styles have been produced, with the most prolific being a shorter version commonly known as "jocko" and a taller version known as "cavalier spirit". The former is of stockier build, with a hunched posture; the latter generally is more slender. Typically these statues are made of concrete, but also are made of other materials such as iron, and may be found in poly resin and aluminum. Despite often being categorized as kitsch or controversial, lawn jockeys are still in demand. Both styles are still manufactured and sold.
The earlier "jocko" design usually depicts the right arm raised, and was styled as a cartoonish young black boy, often with exaggerated features, such as big eyes with the whites painted in; large lips painted red; a large, flat nose and curly hair. Typically, these pieces were painted in gaudy colors for the uniform as with racing colors, with the flesh of the statue a gloss black. As of the 20th century, these statues have been considered racist and many remaining samples have now been repainted, using pink paint for the skin while the original sculpture's exaggerated features remain.
The "cavalier spirit" design usually depicts the left arm raised, and uses a less exaggerated likeness of a young man, with features that are non-descript. These statues would also be painted in stark colors, with skin in either gloss black or pastel pink, red lips, etc., white breeches, black boots, and usually with the vest and cap of either bright red or dark green. Occasionally, the vest and cap might be painted in the bright shades of a jockey's racing silks. Several of the "cavalier spirit" jockey statues are prominently displayed at both the entrance of the 21 Club in Manhattan and the entrance of the Santa Anita Park clubhouse in Los Angeles.
A 1947 magazine advertisement uses two images of cavalier-style lawn jockeys to underscore the statue's use as a symbol of hospitality and the hospitality associated with Old Taylor Kentucky Bourbon, stating: "Jockey hitching posts that invited guests to tarry are an old Kentucky tradition – another sign of a good host."
Underground Railroad communication tool (disputed)
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Charles L. Blockson, Curator Emeritus of the Afro-American Collection at Temple University in Philadelphia and author of Hippocrene Guide to the Underground Railroad, claims that the figures were used in the days of the Underground Railroad to guide escaping slaves to freedom: "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 ...".
Blockson installed an example of the statue at the entrance to Temple University's Sullivan Hall.
Patterns of and markings on the clothing of the statues also are said to have indicated messages understood by fleeing slaves. Blockson's claim to the contemporary use of color in signalling is substantiated by the Congressional 1848 act  which resulted in standardizing red and green colors for channel marker buoys.
David Pilgrim, curator of the Jim Crow Museum, argues that there are several problems with Blockson's claims. He points out that red and green were not used as signal colors until the 20th century and that the colors would be difficult to see at night, when escaped slaves were likely to travel. More importantly, he argues that this was not a common use for the figures: "I do not doubt that a black-faced lawn ornament was used as a signal to slaves. After all, there had to be ways to send otherwise cryptic messages to runaways, and given that slavery lasted more than two hundred years, it is likely that it happened at least once. Nevertheless, there is little evidence that this practice was widespread."
Revolutionary War origin legend
An apocryphal and never substantiated account of the figure's origin portrays the statue as representing a hero of African American history and culture. According to the River Road African American Museum the figure originated in commemoration of heroic dedication to duty: "It is said that the 'lawn jockey' has its roots in the tale of one Jocko Graves, an African-American youth who served with General George Washington at the time that he crossed the Delaware to carry out his surprise attack on Hessian forces at Trenton, NJ. The General thought him too young to take along on such a dangerous attack, so left him on the Pennsylvania side to tend to the horses and to keep a light on the bank for their return. So the story goes, the boy, faithful to his post and his orders, froze to death on the river bank during the night, the lantern still in his hand. The General was so much moved by the boy's devotion to his duty that he had a statue sculpted and cast of him, holding the lantern, and had it installed at his Mount Vernon estate. He called the sculpture The Faithful Groomsman."
The most frequently cited source for the story is Kenneth W. Goings in Mammy and Uncle Mose (Indiana University Press, 1994), though he regards it as apocryphal. The story was told as well in a 32-page children's book by Earl Kroger Sr., Jocko: A Legend of the American Revolution (1963). There is also a 13-page typescript titled "A Horse for the General: The Story of Jocko Graves" (1972), by Thomas William Halligan, in the archives of the University of Alaska Anchorage / Alaska Pacific University Consortium Library.
The Revolutionary War legend is not corroborated by historical records. Mount Vernon's librarian Ellen McCallister Clark wrote in a letter to Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library: "No record of anybody by the name of Jocko Graves, nor any account of somebody freezing to death holding Washington's horses, exists in the extensive historical record of the time."
In popular culture
- A black lawn jockey plays a symbolic role (as well as providing the story's title, in the protagonist's southern vernacular) in Flannery O'Connor's short story "The Artificial Nigger".
- A lawn jockey comes to life in the climactic chapters of Stephen King's novel Duma Key.
- The Negro (Le nèg'), a 2002 film by Québécois director Robert Morin, about a black adolescent who resents lawn jockeys as racist and destroys one, resulting in his murder.
- In The Golden Girls episode “Sisters”, Dorothy’s Aunt Angela, whilst hiding from Sophia so as to be a surprise guest at her birthday party, explains how she avoided being spotted by a neighbor by pretending to be a lawn jockey, commenting that she was obviously successful because a dog attempted to pee on her.
- 33 lawn jockeys donated long ago by wealthy patrons adorn the balcony above the entrance of the 21 Club in Manhattan. They are painted to resemble famous jockeys.
- A lawn jockey comments on racism toward black people in America in the DC Vertigo comic Uncle Sam.
- In the song "Uncle Remus" by Frank Zappa and George Duke from the album Apostrophe ('), Zappa sings of knocking lawn jockeys off of rich people's lawns in Beverly Hills.
- In an episode[which?] of All in the Family, Archie Bunker is given a black lawn jockey as a gift. Mike (Rob Reiner) warns Archie not to put it out. Archie sees George Jefferson, his black neighbor, and says "I am putting this out front!" and Jefferson answers "Thanks for reminding me, Archie, tonight's garbage pick-up night."
- In The West Wing, Season 2, Episode 5 "And It's Surely to Their Credit", near 39m50s, President Bartlett describes the Statue of Liberty as "like a lawn jockey".
- The first edition jacket of the 2016 Man Booker Prize winner The Sellout by Paul Beatty, a satirical novel about race, features a pattern of lawn jockeys.
- A lawn jockey and images of lawn jockeys appear in several episodes of Dear White People. The head of the campus humor magazine tries to argue that they are not racially insensitive because he read on Wikipedia that they were used to help fleeing slaves.
- A lawn jockey is very conspicuously shown in the film In The Heat of The Night as the characters of Police Chief Gillespie (Rod Steiger) and Police Officer Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) enter the home of a local political leader and cotton farm/plantation owner Mr. Endicott. The scene, starting with Officer Tibbs observing African Americans picking cotton in the field and ending with a confrontation with Endicott, is a high tension scene in a film that examines race, race and law enforcement, and race relations throughout. As they pass the lawn jockey, Gillespie puts his hand on the head of the jockey as if to establish how comfortable people of that time and place were with racist symbols.
- Concrete Aboriginal
- Garden gnome
- Representation of African Americans in media
- Stereotypes of African Americans
- 1947 advertisement for Old Taylor Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Charles L. Blockson at thehistorymakers.org
- "Jockey statues marked Underground Railroad". Loudounhistory.org. 1998-02-22. Retrieved 2011-08-01.
- "A history of buoys and tenders" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-12-09.
- "Lawn Jockeys - 2008 - Question of the Month - Jim Crow Museum - Ferris State University". www.ferris.edu. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-02-29. Retrieved 2008-02-25.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- "21 Club, New York City / Famous NYC Restaurant with Banquet Rooms – History". 21club.com. Retrieved 2011-08-01.