The Forgotten Black Superstar Athlete: Isaac B. Murphy

2/14/2014, 10:24 a.m.
Muhammad Ali ruled the boxing ring. Michael Jordan ruled the basketball court. And from 1879 to 1892, no one ruled ...
Pellom McDaniels III, author of “The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy.” Photo by Titus Falodun.

“There’s this realization that takes place at the end of [Murphy’s] life that the promises of America and this idea of democracy, those are not things that black folks are intended to enjoy,” McDaniels said.

Ironically, Murphy’s father served in the Union Army during the Civil War and his mother was named America Burns. They both gave Murphy a solid foundation that this very nation would attempt to break down.

Murphy died of pneumonia in 1896 in Lexington, Ky. He was 35 years old. His grave was unmarked and his memory tossed to the wind.

If not for the extensive search for Murphy’s burial site, led by University of Kentucky press specialist Frank B. Borries Jr., his story and legacy may have been buried forever.

Now, Pellom McDaniels III, who is faculty curator of African American collections and a professor of African American studies at Emory University, brings a vivid depth and scope to a forgotten legend in sports history.

Spending several years visiting libraries throughout the nation and sifting through online newspaper archives, McDaniels research on Isaac Burns Murphy ultimately unearths the trials and tribulation of a champion black athlete have not changed in many ways.

“His experience is that white people do not want black success because it unravels their idea of white supremacy,” McDaniels concluded.