On Thursday, Churchill Downs officials hadn’t decided whether they would play the controversial anthem, “My Old Kentucky Home” at the 146th Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
On Friday, a tweet from the track’s public relations Twitter account seemed to indicate a decision had been made:
“After careful consideration, My Old Kentucky Home will be played this year prior to the @KentuckyDerby; however, the 100-year tradition of singing the state song of Kentucky has been thoughtfully & appropriately modified & will be preceded by a moment of silence and reflection.”
The song, written in 1853 by Stephen Foster, is a Kentucky slave’s lament. For years, people have expressed concerns over the anthem and say Churchill Downs should not play it, especially against a backdrop of racial injustice protests being held across Louisville and the country.
In the song, inspired by the novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a slave is saying goodbye to Kentucky to face abuse and toil in the “land where the sugar canes grow.”
The state song is traditionally performed in the final minutes leading up to the Derby, affectionately known as the “Run for the Roses.”
The track said in a statement Thursday, ”we recognize that people in our community and across our nation are hurting right now. The atmosphere of the Kentucky Derby will be different this year as we respond to those calls for change. This will be a Derby unlike any other. As it should be.”
With few exceptions, the University of Louisville Cardinal Marching Band has performed ”My Old Kentucky Home” every year since 1936. If this were a typical year, the 200-piece band would play the Kentucky state song in front of a crowd of more than 150,000. But there will be no fans in the stands due to the coronavirus pandemic, and nothing about this Kentucky Derby is normal.
Several local protesters told The Courier Journal they want Churchill Downs to cancel the race altogether as a statement against police brutality and the Louisville police officers who fatally shot Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman who was killed at her apartment in March. Protests are continuing Friday, the 100th consecutive day of demonstrations, as well as Saturday.
Amy Acklin, director of the University of Louisville Cardinal Marching Band, said she knows the song is controversial and that “we should be able to engage in thoughtful dialogue about this topic. But let’s keep in mind this is the state song, and that conversation needs to be led by the governor’s office.”
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