Black History

Oliver Lewis

Oliver Lewis Oliver Lewis (1856-1924) was the first African American and the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby.

The first Derby was held at the Louisville Jockey Club on May 17, 1875.

Oliver Lewis, who was just nineteen at the time, was the jockey for a horse called Aristide. Aristide was not expected to win. Chesapeake, a colt from the same stable and owner was favored to win the race.

The plan was for Lewis to set the pace and tire out the other horses, which would then open up the race for Chesapeake.

When the horses came to the last kilometer, Lewis looked for Chesapeake. When he realized the horse was too far back to catch up, Lewis pulled Aristide ahead and won the event.

The Kentucky Derby is the premiere event in the sport of horse racing. Thirteen of the fifteen jockeys in the first Derby were African American. In the early years, Black jockeys dominated the event and won fifteen of the first twenty-eight races.

Benjamin Fletcher

Benjamin FletcherBenjamin Fletcher (1890-1949) was a union leader and organizer in the early 1900’s. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) while employed as a dockworker in Philadelphia in 1912. The IWW, nicknamed Wobbly, was the one union that welcomed members from all races and treated them fairly and equally.

Fletcher was active in the union and soon stood out for his intellect and oratory skills.

In 1913 he helped establish the Philadelphia Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union Local 8, the local or Philadelphia branch of the IWW.

The membership of Local 8 was made up of African Americans, European immigrants and West Indians. Fletcher believed that worker solidarity in the workforce was more important than racial solidarity. He realized that integrated union groups prevented employers from using race to pit different ethnic groups against each other, and made sure the leadership of Local 8 reflected the diversity of its members.

The IWW was against war and passed an anti-war resolution at the union’s 1916 convention. This view made the IWW leadership a target of the FBI. They were accused of treason and arrested for conspiring to strike. Fletcher was convicted in 1918 and sentenced to ten years in prison.

African American leaders, including W.E.B. DuBois, and civil rights leader, Asa Philip Randolph protested Fletcher’s imprisonment. In 1920 Fletcher was released on bail. President Warren G. Harding commuted his sentence in 1923, and in 1933 he received a full pardon from President Franklin D Roosevelt.

369th Infantry Regiment

369th Infantry Regiment

African Americans in World War I…who were they? If you’re teaching World War I, African American soldiers that made up the 369th Infantry Regiment should be included.

During World War I several all-black units served and fought in Europe. The most famous of those units was the 369th, nicknamed the Harlem Hellfighters by the Germans.

Members of the the 369th fought alongside the French and on the front lines for several months. More than 170 members of the unit received medals and citations from the French government, including the the Croix de Guerre, the French medal that is awarded to soldiers for bravery in combat.

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