Louisville Cemetery/William Walker

Historical Marker #1992 in Louisville notes the location of the Louisville Cemetery, which was founded by prominent African American citizens in 1886.

The Louisville Cemetery, near Germantown, holds the remains of many notable individuals from that city's African American community. One of the most well-known, however, is William Walker, Sr., an accomplished black jockey and trainer who raced in four Kentucky Derbies and won the 1877 race astride Baden-Baden.

William "Billy" Walker was born enslaved in 1860 in Woodford County. Some evidence indicates he was reared at Bosque Bonita, the plantation of Abraham Buford, while other claims state that he lived at Nantura Farm, owned by John Harper. Regardless of where Walker grew up in Woodford County, he undoubtedly was raised around horses; by age eleven he made his jockey debut at Jerome Park in New York. A year later, Walker had his first win.

After gaining more riding experience, Walker began having extended success. He won two stakes races in 1873, and, in the inaugural Kentucky Derby of 1875, he rode the fourth place horse. In the next Derby, Walker rode the eighth place finisher. In 1877, at age seventeen, Walker captured the Derby victory riding Baden-Baden, who was trained by noted African American ex-jockey Edward Dudley Brown. Walker rode seven-year-old Ten Broeck in 1878 to a stunning victory over the California horse Mollie McCarty at the Louisville Jockey Club before a crowd of 30,000, a match race which became immortalized in the folk song “Molly and Tenbrooks.”

Walker's jockey career spanned nearly twenty-five years. Afterward, he continued to thrive in the horse industry as a trainer and an advisor to owners due to his expertise on pedigree. One of his last roles in horse racing was serving as a clocker at the spring and fall meets at Churchill Downs.

The 1930 census lists William Walker as being seventy years old and living with his wife, Hannah, 57, and son, William, Jr., 36, in Louisville. He owned his home, valued at $5,000 and his occupation was listed as "Racing." Walker died on September 20, 1933, in Louisville, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Louisville Cemetery. In 1996, a headstone was placed at his grave to mark the resting place of this horse racing legend.