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New book explores racist past of ‘My Old Kentucky Home’

As Churchill Downs prepares to celebrate the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby, a new book is again challenging the long-time tradition of the playing of “My
Published: May. 5, 2022 at 4:14 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - As Churchill Downs prepares to celebrate the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby, a new book is again challenging the long-time tradition of the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home.”

In her book, “My Old Kentucky Home, The Astonishing Life and Reckoning of an Iconic American Song,” Louisville author Emily Bingham described her deep dive into the origin and meaning of the song as “a spy hole into one of America’s deftest and most destructive creations: the ‘singing enslaved person’ whose song assured hearers that the plantation was happy and a place where Black people belong.”

“Performing it and perpetuating it without understanding its roots and its background and the pain that it has caused and the pain that it is based in; perpetuating that and performing that in white controlled spaces is, I think, a white supremacist thing to do,” Bingham said.

A New York Times review of the book said, “The song is a thing from antiquity, yes, but in 2022, in an America at war with itself, this book seems to arrive just in time. Bingham, in her words, scrubs off some of that burned cork to see what is underneath.”

The 2022 Kentucky Derby will feature a performance of “My Old Kentucky Home” by the University of Louisville Marching Band and Choir.

A statement from Churchill Downs defended the decision with a quote from Frederick Douglass.

“The great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass wrote in his autobiography that the ballad, ‘awakens sympathy for the slave, in which antislavery principles take root, grow and flourish,’” the statement said. “We have great appreciation for that historical perspective and the principles that inspire a more equitable future for all.”

Bingham rejected that argument.

“People like to tell themselves that this is an anti-slavery song,” Bingham said. “I challenge that directly. I don’t know anyone who has ever stood up at the Kentucky Derby in that moment of joy and excitement and thought about slavery. But that is what this song is about, about the slave trade.”

WAVE — Louisville and Southern Indiana's NBC affiliate. Follow us on Twitter & Instagram...
WAVE — Louisville and Southern Indiana's NBC affiliate. Follow us on Twitter & Instagram @wave3news.(WAVE)

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