Despite “Growing Discomfort,” Controversial 100-Year-Old Kentucky Derby Tradition Set to Continue

Published 04/30/2023, 4:15 PM EDT

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The celebrations at Louisville are at their peak as the Kentucky Derby, version 2023, is just around the corner. The Derby at Churchill Downs is known for its traditions apart from the horse racing events. One such tradition is the song, ‘ My Old Kentucky Home,’ which is being subjected to protests once again ahead of the Derby show.

The song written by Stephen Foster back in the 1850s was inspired by the plight of enslaved African-Americans as depicted in the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher. The song was first sung reportedly during the 47th edition of Derby in 1921. Ever since it has been a tradition to play the song as the elite horses enter the field while more than 1,60,000 spectators sing in chorus. However, the song has a long history of condemnation because of its roots in the period of slavery.

The tradition of “ My Old Kentucky Home” will be followed this year as well


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Confirming that the song will continue to be a part of the Kentucky Derby celebrations this year, the VP of Corporate Communications at Churchill Downs, elaborated that after proper dialogue with Derby fans and the community, they have decided to keep the over a century-old tradition intact. 

She said, “We give careful consideration to all of our traditions year after year. it’s the state song of Kentucky and we’ll be singing it before this year’s Kentucky Derby.” However, there is no denying the fact that there is an outpour of protests to exclude the song from the celebrations.


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Emily Bingham, a popular author belonging to Louisville, stated, “There is clearly a growing discomfort.” She clarifies that the song has been criticized for a very long time in different ways. Her research findings also strengthen her views that the song is now a tribute to times of slavery. She argues that the song stresses the need for introspection and can never be a celebratory anthem.


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Activists find the song outdated

David Thurmond, a consultant of a non-profit organization, Kentucky to the World said, “I think in our view it is iconic of a previous long-ago generation that was very painful and hurtful to people.

via Imago

Hannah Drake, an activist plus poet has written a poem “ Home” in which she says the song is outdated and a change is much needed. The Churchill Downs confirmed that the song has secured its place in the upcoming Derby on 6th May. But for how many more years, it will be sung at the Derby, is a matter of time.


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Written by:

Etha Bindu Rani


One take at a time

Etha Bindu Rani is an American sportswriter at EssentiallySports. Being a fitness enthusiast, she considers Ronnie Coleman and Chris Bumstead as her inspirations. Apart from that, Etha is passionate about writing.
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Edited by:

Anupama Ghosh