Guidepost to Safe Places with the 'Underground Railroad'

Many individuals have seen the ‘black lawn jockey holding a lantern’ in someone’s front yard but did they really know the possible history of this ornament? Its meaning signified that the home with such an ornament in the 1850s and 1860s, was a stop on the Underground Railroad. These were largely a northern thing, and weren’t commonly found in the South until after WWII when northerners moved there and brought this custom with them.

The clothing of the statue was also coded. A striped jockey’s shirt meant that this was a place to swap horses, while a footman in a tailed coat meant overnight lodging and/or food, and a blue sailor’s waistcoat meant the homeowner could take you to a port and get you on a ship to Canada.

When use of these statues came back into popularity after WWII, (1945) they were again coded. Mostly to show that the white homeowners supported early civil rights efforts, and were NOT Klan members, etc. These statues meant a lot to African-Americans, their freedom and they also represent the bravery and support of the homeowners that risked their homes, themselves, and their families for the struggle of freedom and equality.

Now to state the above meaning behind the lawn jockey is 100% is difficult since if used to provide a safe haven it would not be written up any newspaper or magazine of the times. But it does make sense, a lantern to help guide those escaping former slaves find a safe passage.

A different way to look at something that may have sat in your ancestor’s front lawn.

Photos: Various vintage jockey statues.

Related Blogs:

African-American Research site


Resources for African-American Genealogy

< Return To Blog We destroyed these upon integration in Fort Smith, Arkansas on 12th and 13th streets in particular. I will certainly take another look at these persons who were living there. Trying to find a link to Underground Railroad in Arkansas is challenging.
Imogene McClendon Covin 17/06/20

It may have belonged to individuals who lived further north at one time, including ancestors who did supported the Underground Railroad.
alice 17/06/20

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