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Summer Intern Reflects on the Power of Knowledge

This blog post is written by summer 2020 Content Administrator and graduate intern, Kenyarna Harden. She lifts up the Black voice as she works with the International Museum of the Horse. Kenyarna is obtaining her Masters of Science in Library Science concentrating in Digital Librarianship at North Carolina Central University. She brings a sense of obligation for representation and historical correctness while engaging in digital archival research in a thirst for knowledge. 

What a year it has been to work on a cultural project that further enhances the achievements of African Americans in the horse industry. As I began my internship, the world was facing a pandemic and America has been forced to face a racial revolution amongst all generations. 

This alters everything within our day to day lives. This internship experience is simply different, from personal protective equipment to social distancing. Just as the distance increases further between African American history and America’s unwillingness to accept it’s blatant ignorance of the “minority experience.” But I find simplicity and clarity in my project’s focus within the development of the Chronicle of African Americans in the Horse Industry (CAAHI) website. Through this internship, I had the opportunity to magnify the Black voice. It is imperative to the Chronicle, which connects America’s Black middle child problems to its famously favorite pastime while uniting more African Americans with the real history of our people in this country.

African American woman views display of jockey paintings

During the pandemic shutdown, Kenyarna Harden makes a rare visit to the museum's Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf exhibit. Artwork by William Wells Brown Elementary students. 

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”-Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s statement came to mind when I learned about Theophilus Irvin Jr., the first African American Kentucky Racing Commissioner (1931); Oliver Lewis, the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby (1875); and Isaac Burns Murphy, who won 500+ races during his career. These gentlemen became the catalyst of the untapped world we know now as the horse industry. Not only were they the first of their kind as jockeys, owners, and trainers, but these men set records that were not beaten for generations. While trying to overcome the injustice of slavery and racism, these men further provided for the communities in East Lexington with the birth of the Kentucky Racing Association.  

Historical information, however, must be organized to be understood. I was charged with the task of organizing, revamping, and solidifying information on the Chronicle website in order to present it in ways that make it easier to find, understand, and be used. The organization helps bridge the gap between data points and information that builds knowledge.  

Looking further past the walls of the International Museum of the Horse, I engaged with other institutions across the country. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the internship was redeveloped to support the world's new normal--remote working.  Thus, in-person contact with other institutions was restricted to emails and Zoom video calls. Primarily, my task was to create a list of other institutions with related information about African Americans in the horse industry, including libraries, museums, and historical societies, as well as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). This list contains information regarding the institution’s digital materials on African Americans and their placement in the horse industry. 

Creating the list was daunting as it had to be started from scratch; however, prioritizing institutions that IMH previously communicated with for the Black Horsemen exhibit made the process less challenging. As I made my way through an initial maze of websites and outsourced database systems, I was gradually led onto an upward path, finding threads of notations on African Americans and the horse industry. At the conclusion of my research, I developed personalized email messages that encourage further engagement from each institution and inquires about additional resources not yet digitized.  

During this experience with the International Museum of the Horse, I have learned that the history of African Americans within the horse industry is of vital importance to today’s racing culture. With multiple influences from untold stories, the Chronicle of African Americans in the Horse Industry has written a narrative, new to many, in which the Black community can be proud, and turn to in the future to continue telling our stories. 

African American woman in colorful clothing with matching COVID-19 mask

Kenyarna is smiling beneath her COVID-19 mask. She is proud to represent and preserve her African American heritage as a digital archivist. 

This project has influenced my career in many ways that allow me to achieve my goal to obtain a position as a Digital Preservation Archivist. It has given me knowledge and resources to improve the stories of untold tales.

My interest in this internship was not solely for academic purposes, however, but also for the knowledge of horses and the Black individuals that came before myself in history. As there is slight remembrance of African American history by most, the combination of African Americans and horses can be guiding enlightenment throughout one’s life because of the bravery and mental sacrifice they were able to endure. The significance of this topic to the Black community is crucial simply because our history is knowledge and our knowledge is power. The Chronicle allows all communities to become educated with a variety of stories that promote all individuals related to the Black community. 

The information that is not known or not written in books, but told in tales, is the information the Black community needs the most. As history repeats itself, it is better to know the history than to rewrite, copy, and blindly plagiarize history, over and over. As a horse is a universal symbol of freedom without restraint, the first African American jockeys raced horses to feel free; riding a horse naturally gives off that feeling. The Black jockeys let their freedom ring throughout the time period they lived in. With their horses, they let their freedom ring.

Work Cited

Angelou, M. (1993). 'On the Pulse of Morning'. Retrieved June 17, 2020, from 

https://www.nytimes.com/1993/01/21/us/the-inauguration-maya-angelou-on-the-pulse-of-

morning.html

 

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Institute of Museum and Library Services