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Partner Institutions Add Treasures to the Chronicle

Post Date: February 21, 2022

Crowdsourcing is integral to the Chronicle of African Americans in the Horse Industry. This means reaching out to community members as well as cultural institutions that hold important pieces of this story. The museum’s collaborative spirit connected us with other organizations long before this website project, and the Chronicle has given us a more pressing reason to intentionally build up these relationships.

With funding from IMLS, we offered $1,500 each to 15 institutions to digitize their relevant collections and share them with us for publication on the Chronicle website. The partnering organizations could use the funds to support staff time, hire additional help, or purchase digitization supplies such as scanners or photography equipment.

Discovery of Prospective Partners

In the summer of 2020 our graduate student intern, Kenyarna Harden, researched and began the conversation with potential partners. However, cultural institutions nationwide, including our museum, were impacted profoundly by the Covid-19 pandemic and experienced staffing shortages and temporary closures. Thankfully, the IMLS grant was extended, and we were able to resume outreach a year later.

Our search for partners began close to home with our neighbors such as the American Saddlebred Museum, University of Kentucky, and Kentucky Historical Society. We also considered any equine or African American museums, as well as archives in key regions identified for their involvement with horse history. Beyond Kentucky, we were happy to expand the scope and connect with steeplechase, rodeo, and western heritage museums.

Our inquiries were met with enthusiastic and positive responses. “Yes! - we are very interested and would love to participate!” came from Diana Vela at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.

However, not all prospective organizations could manage the digitization project, with or without the funding. Some had too small of a collection or too few staff to assess their materials. Others had too large of a collection and assured us that they will contribute to the Chronicle at a later date with their own funding. Still others had bureaucratic hurdles that prevented them from accepting the funds or taking on the project at this time.

Willie Simms pin

The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame shared the image of this 1896 memento in their collections. The Willie Simms pin was created by The Whitehead & Hoag Co.

Institutional Partners

Prospective partners who were able to provide a preliminary list of items for digitization and a timeline for completion were accepted. By the end of December 2021, our 15 partners were secured.

They include:

African Cemetery Number Two

Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum

American Saddlebred Museum

Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate

James Madison’s Montpelier

Kentucky Derby Museum

Kentucky Historical Society

The Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky

National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame

National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame

National Steeplechase Museum

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy

University of Kentucky Libraries

University of Louisville Oral History Center

Used horse shoe nails excavated at Montpelier

Used horse shoe nails are among the archaeological artifacts relating to horse care, use, or work recovered from enslaved contexts at James Madison’s Montpelier. Items were photographed by The Montpelier Foundation.

Increasing the Diversity of Items

One of the goals of the Chronicle of African Americans in the Horse Industry is to increase the amount of and access to African American history. A lesson we’ve learned through building this website is that there’s a hugely diverse array of horsemen and women whose stories belong on the Chronicle website. We hoped to build a platform where the variety of all voices have a place.

Our institutional partners have been entrusted with family heirlooms. These treasures come in many different forms, such as:

  • Framed professional photographs of winner’s circles
  • Family snapshots in photo albums
  • Trophies, clothing, and quilts
  • Paintings and drawings depicting memorable achievements

The museums, libraries and archives that we’re working with have honored the achievements of horsemen and women in various ways, such as:

  • Inducting them to halls of fame
  • Recording their voices through oral histories
  • Archiving films that depict trend-setters and record-breakers
  • Unearthing tools that were once used by enslaved horsemen
  • Providing the final resting place for equine professionals and their families

They continue to receive gifts from community members who want their loved ones’ legacies to live on, and not be forgotten. Creating digital files through scanning or photography and publishing them online is a way to keep these memories accessible for this and the next generation. While we hope to present as many memories and stories as possible, another benefit to these partnerships is the open door for exchanging information.

Bill Nelson on Miss Kitty, 1965

The American Saddlebred Museum shared this 1965 photo of Bill Nelson on Miss Kitty.

A Shared Commitment

Eric Brooks at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, expressed their ongoing commitment to these shared goals. “We are certainly interested in partnership with IMH and other organizations to document African American history in the Bluegrass more comprehensively however that might be done and certainly there is much we can share relating to African Americans in the Horse Industry.”

By working together, even when times are tough, sharing digital files makes them more accessible to all. We are collectively writing a richer, more thorough narrative of how African Americans have contributed to and been impacted by equine professions.

We would like to thank all the partners who are listed above, along with those who expressed an interest to share their collections in the future. The door to the Chronicle is always open.

It will take some time to publish the hundreds of items that our partners are providing. As our team receives and prepares digital files, we write a person profile to put them into context of an individual’s life. Check the Chronicle website often for new people, items and stories. To receive quarterly email updates, subscribe by emailing [email protected].



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

Institute of Museum and Library Services