Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



From 1865 to 1920, Thoroughbred horse racing matured in Louisiana, developing into a national sport shaped by the processes of modernization, professionalization, and reform. Before the onset of the Civil War, the leaders of Southern thoroughbred horse racing came from the planter elite who used African-American slave horsemen in shows of “amateur” recreation. Combining upper-class recreation with lower and middle-class entertainment, horse racing was a performance of social power. The Civil War devastated the Louisiana turf, scattering horses and men – but sportsmen proposed that post-war racing would help the state recover. The once-independent New Orleans turf joined an interconnected network of major tracks as the professional turfmen adopted national racing ideals and standards. Thanks to the turfmen’s efforts to promote and democratize the sport, New Orleans became the national capital of winter racing. The professional class leading the Louisiana turf reflected the fusion of gambling-as-business with a larger organizational transformation that was occurring. The modernization of the track brought more lucrative prospects to everyone in racing, including black horsemen and professional gamblers. After emancipation, black horsemen prospered on the track; their continued success in a meritocratic profession allowed them to earn a significant salary, widespread acclaim, and social mobility. But the equality espoused by some of the black horsemen troubled white turfmen who then enacted widespread informal policies leading to the national subordination and exclusion of African-American jockeys. Emphasizing gambling also piqued Progressive and moral reformers seeking to cleanse the tracks of an ostensibly undesirable element. The means to reform was uncertain, and a debate between regulation and prohibition arose in the Louisiana Legislature. In the end, the legislature passed laws that banned racetrack gambling and, effectively, shut down the New Orleans tracks. When Louisiana gambling laws were repealed, a decline in public interest meant fewer tracks reopened, leading to increased competition for mounts, and no opportunity for black horsemen thanks to Louisiana’s solidification of Jim Crow. The convergence of racial ideology, economic interest, and moral reform all fundamentally influenced the reemergence and decline of thoroughbred horse racing in New Orleans from Reconstruction through the Progressive Era.



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Committee Chair

Foster, Gaines



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