Compliments of the River Road African American Museum
Original Publish Date April 2013
Abe Hawkins (unknown – 1867) was born at Ashland Plantation in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. He was the most celebrated jockey in America prior to Isaac Murphy and is the first African American professional athlete to gain national and international prominence. Abe’s success paved the way for many other great African American jockeys who became skilled trainers, excellent athletes and jackpot winners in America’s first sport. While a slave in Louisiana, he accomplished his most notable victory as a rider aboard Lecomte when he defeated Lexington in one of the most celebrated match races in turf history at the famous Metairie Race Course in New Orleans in April 1854.
After the Civil War, Hawkins went North and achieved celebrity and fortune, particularly at Saratoga where he won, among other races, the 1866 Travers Stakes aboard Merrill. His skill as a jockey was legendary and his riding style, which was a significant contribution to the sport of horse racing, later came to be known as the “American Seat” or: Riding Forward” which Tod Sloan and Willie Simms popularized some 20 years later. He was called upon to ride the best horses of his era including Arrow, Whale, Panic, Minnehaha, Louis d’Or, Rhynodine, and Asteroid.
Hawkins died in 1867 and in honor of his final request; he was buried overlooking the training track at the Ashland Plantation of Duncan Kenner in Louisiana. His obituary in the sporting publication Turf, Field and Farm remembered Hawkins as “a master of his profession and not less faithful than he was competent…Good riders and strictly honest ones are rare, therefore the death of Abe is an irreparable loss to the American Turf.”
In 1997, Abe Hawkins was inducted into the Louisiana Racing Museum Hall of Fame.