Buried Truth: Research (frustration seasoned with a pinch of hope)

I wish to take a few minutes out of the research schedule to share a few thoughts as to why the work I am privileged to do is so very gratifying. If I am successful in this type of storytelling, many more of you will come on board to enjoy the ride!

Ferreting out the facts and documentation for the real stories of African-American history is no walk in the park. One must be creative, meticulous and refrain from making the facts fit the desired outcome. If I have learned anything at all from my African-American brothers and sisters, it is perseverance and I am most grateful.

First, you should understand the way I approach the unknown histories. There are basically two methods that work well for me. One is to toss a few facts out on the media through this column, at a social gathering or through social media and see what kind of feedback is generated. This can produce absolutely nothing, but then again, I may get one phone call that reveals a treasure trove of data. Invariably, that one connection will produce at least two or three more.

The alternative approach is to set a goal and then jump headlong into the task of sleuthing through the logical repositories, followed by those that are not so common or easily accessed. Both methods have their advantages and often they can be overlapped. Regardless of which one is utilized first, they both require a great deal of patience.

Finding living descendants and verifying previously untold stories with photos, letters and family stories is the equivalent of exploring new worlds—fascinating, energizing and educational!

I am working with the Montpelier Steeplechase and Equestrian Center Foundation (MSECF) to research and develop an intriguing exhibit about black horsemen that will open at the November 3 races. There will be both national and local stories. From the local perspective, the research is focused on three Orange County men who were very involved with Mrs. Marion DuPont Scott’s racing enterprise. The quest is to learn as much as possible about each of them. Hopefully, there will be photos and stories to personalize their lives.

Martha Strawther, executive director of the MSECF, has tapped a wonderful network along the East Coast for statistics and equine images. But what of those personal stories? Where can we hope to gain some real insight into personalities, values and family histories?

It was not commonplace to read positive accounts of local people of color in the typical community newspaper, at least not until the 1960s, with an interesting exception: sports. Accomplishments in the field of sports regardless of color or culture were a source of pride for most communities. The horse racing industry did the world of news one better. They loved the winners, be they horses, riders or trainers and subsequently could be counted on for well-documented accounts. Their coverage added a layer to what was known about an individual, but the essence of the man remained undiscovered.

It would require deeper research and investigation. It would require finding at least one person, hopefully, a descendant, who knew the subject well.

I was on the hunt but getting nowhere; the networking was simply missing the mark. I refocused on the census records of the 1930s and ‘40s that included much of Marion DuPont Scott’s best racing years. Armed with a few names and with hat in hand, I began the formidable task of cold-calling.

There were a depressing number of “the number you have called is no longer in service” messages. Chalk it up to stubbornness, determination, perseverance or pig-headedness, I kept plodding through all the names and numbers. Stay tuned!

Previously published in the Orange County Review July 14, 2018

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