Kentucky Derby host Churchill Downs says it will play its theme, “My Old Kentucky Home,” despite claims from activists that the song contains “racist” lyrics.
The song, published by Stephen Foster in 1853, first became a Kentucky Derby staple around 1921, but over the last few years, the tune has come under fire. In the 1880s, famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass praised the song because it was sentimental and somber instead of lively and mocking of blacks. But because it was a minstrel group staple, modern activists have ignored Douglass’s positive assessment and determined the song to be “racist.”
Pastor Timothy Findley, for one, wants the song canceled as accompaniment for the big race. The Kingdom Life Center leader claims that eliminating the song will somehow help Louisville “move forward.”
“If we’re going to do the right thing, if we’re going to do the thing that moves our community forward, moves our city forward, and shows that we have sensitivity to what has happened in the past and a mind to move forward in the future, the song needs to be removed. I don’t even understand why this is such a difficult thing,” Findley told CBS affiliate WLKY.
The 145-year-old track did make some concessions to the playing of the song during its 2020 run. During the Labor-Day weekend race last year, track officials decided to have a bugler play the music without lyrics as a response to the death of Breonna Taylor. The song ended with a moment of silence and a reflection over the Taylor shooting.
Activists had unsuccessfully campaigned to have the song canceled last year, as well.
Track officials have confirmed that The UofL Marching band will perform “My Old Kentucky Home” on Saturday during the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby.
— Kentucky Derby (@KentuckyDerby) April 27, 2021
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Facebook at: facebook.com/Warner.Todd.Huston.