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Summer Intern Tells All: Database Organizing Revealed

Update: As of November 2020, the website is live! Please visit

Post Date: August 13, 2019

This blog post by intern Michael Phelps sums up his summer work as the Content Coordinator. Michael is a high school social studies teacher working on his Master’s in History at Eastern Kentucky University. His eye for detail, thirst for knowledge and good research skills moved the project much further along. 

Over the course of this summer, I have had the opportunity to work with the Chronicle team as they prepare to move from research to website deployment. Research efforts have created a dense patchwork of primary and secondary sources with each file dropped into a digital maze of holding folders. I reviewed hundreds of individuals with various source documents attached. Some held only a single source, while others would have up to fifteen different documents within their file. Unfortunately, it was difficult to tell how much we had on any individual or across each era quickly and easily. 

A sampling of the hundreds of folders for each individual who will be added to the Chronicle

Hundreds of folders, one for each individual, hold resources, images, articles and photos that will populate the Chronicle.

My primary task was to organize the various pieces to form a clear picture of the source material by creating a research guide. This will help to focus future research where it is needed most. Outlines within each era allow us to quickly see how many and what types of sources are available for the various individuals identified (ie. newspaper articles, images, autobiographical accounts, etc.). Nearly cross eyed at times staring at the computer screen, I methodically transferred bits of data across spreadsheets and cloud storage folders. I took breaks to look out the window at the various horses moving through the Horse Park and enjoyed the special taco Thursday lunches with museum staff. However, it was the incredible stories that I read which kept my mind sharp and interested. I became captivated by the narratives that began to appear and obsessed with searching for more. 

My second task was to create a comprehensive list of the various events and organizations that the African American horsemen and women were involved with. When the Chronicle is up and running, each individual will be tagged with races they won, horse farms they worked on and professional organizations to which they belonged. By reading through the hundreds of source documents, I was able to identify over 210 specific events and 175 different organizations (ie. tracks, stables and associations). This list is by no means exhaustive and continues to grow with each opportunity to read through more source material. 

An article published in the Daily Racing Form in 1991 provides a snapshot of the life lived by the first African American Racking Commissioner in Kentucky, Theophilus Irvin Jr.

An article published in the Daily Racing Form in 1991 provides a snapshot of the life lived by the first African American Racing Commissioner in Kentucky, Theophilus Irvin Jr.

In the end, the Chronicle will shine a light on many firsts in the horse industry including the first African American Kentucky Racing Commissioner (Theophilus Irvin Jr, in article above), the first track steward (Daryl Parker), the winningest jockey (Deshawn Parker), the first female trainer (Sylvia Bishop) and first female jockey (Cheryl White). Along with their stories, the Chronicle will show that beyond the most famous jockeys of the early Kentucky Derbies, we know that African Americans were an integral part of the Derby throughout every decade of its existence as grooms, trainers and owners of top class thoroughbreds. For instance, did you know that Stanley Burrell (aka MC Hammer) owned a racing stable with his father and brother? They won the 1992 Kentucky Oaks (Lite Light) and ran third in the 1993 Kentucky Derby (Dance Floor). You can look forward to these stories and many more once the Chronicle of African Americans in the Horse Industry is up and running. Until then, it is back to the databasement for me . . .

Would you like to work behind the scenes to reveal the hidden history of African American horse professionals? Intern with us this fall! We are accepting applications now. Email [email protected] for more information.

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

Institute of Museum and Library Services