It’s True Black Owner Partial Preakness Winner Curlin Named For Black Slave

Updated: May 19, 2007




YES it really happened

an African American


of a Triple Crown Race


Preakness winner Curlin

partially owned by

Shirley Cunningham

Kentucky attorney

Please we know it is ABSURD we have to get excited that FINALLY for the first time in Modern History an African American is the even partial owner of a horse that has won one of the Major Horse Races of the Year. On Saturday at the Preakness. By a nose Curlin upset highly favored Street Sense.

So our Story is not about the Preakness or even Curlin. This one is for you Lexington, Kentucky attorney Shirley Cunningham. Of course the question is Who The Heck Is Shirley Cunningham. That is what we will do for him and you. Tell you who he is so you will know.

You can be sure the rest of the media won’t. They will be gushing over the Upset, and Curlin and the Jockey and the Trainer and the WHITE owners. Lucky if Cunningham even gets his named mentioned at all in the White Media.

Hear that SPIKE Lee. Forget about getting a few future fellow Morehouse alumni jobs at ESPN. They still won’t be able to do a story about Shirley Cunningham. That will take BLACK media. That is where you should be putting your Big Bucks Spike not kissing up to White Sports Media. Begging for a few jobs.

Sorry Mr. Shirley Cunningham

this Box is about you but

we needed to send Spike


Back to you. First of all Congratulations. Allow us rather than inventing the “wheel” especially as we are on deadline to profile you by quoting a thoughtful article about you ( one of very few ) that identified you because of your ownership involvement with Preakness Champ Curlin. done way back on May 1st.


The Preakness winner is not only named for a legendary Kentucky African American “slave” Charlie Curlin, Shirley Cunningham is his DIRECT descendant. Cunningham is Charlie Curlin’s own great grandson !!



( written prior to the Kentucky Derby )

from the Lexington Herald – Leader

by reporter Maryjean Wall

worth reading carefully

” Charlie Curlin of Trigg County was a slave whose name will live forever if the horse called Curlin wins the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Curlin the horse actually might wind up the post-time favorite: no surprise, given Curlin is undefeated going into a wide open race.”

” But the story behind this intriguing Derby hopeful is much larger than one colt’s perfect record going into America’s greatest horse race. The story goes back to the decade before the inaugural 1875 Kentucky Derby. The story takes us down the road southwest from Louisville to the border of Tennessee and into rural, secessionist Trigg County.”

“What we know of Charlie Curlin’s story begins in 1864 when the slave signed on with the Union Army in the United States Colored Troops. Like many soldiers in Kentucky companies of the U.S. Colored Troops, Curlin found himself assigned to Camp Nelson in Central Kentucky. ”

“Charlie Curlin was truly confused about who he was fighting for. That’s very clear from stories he told when he got back home,” said lawyer Shirley Cunningham Jr. of Georgetown, the man who named Curlin, the horse.”

” Cunningham is part-owner of Curlin, the horse. He is also the great-grandson of Charlie Curlin of Trigg County. He has heard the Curlin family stories all his life.

If Curlin wins the Derby, Cunningham will become the first African American to own a percentage of a Derby winner since Dudley Allen of Lexington was lead partner in the Jacobin Stable that raced 1891 Derby winner, Kingman.”

” It’s also interesting “to have a horse owned by a great-grandson of a slave that possibly wins the Derby,” said one of Cunningham’s partners in Curlin, lawyer William Gallion, formerly of Kentucky and now a resident of Captiva, Fla.”

” But just as compelling will be the story told about Curlin the man as it unfolds, should Curlin win the Derby. For, although Charlie Curlin’s confusion over his wartime identity might seem strange to us, it could have been more the norm in the context of his time and place.”

“If only we had an explanation from Charlie Curlin himself, we might understand how it was for a veteran of the federal army’s U.S. Colored Troops who returned home to live in a county that had wanted to secede from the United States.”

” Kentucky’s Civil War history is confusing enough when viewed from the whites-only perspective. Imagine how it must have been for African Americans who could not read and probably did not often hear the truth.”

” The “truth” for anyone, black or white, depended on the Kentucky county where you heard it. Some counties were predominantly Unionist, others largely Confederate. Kentucky did officially side with the Union, after a few months of neutrality, but never was unified in its Northern or Southern sympathies, either during the war or afterward.”

” All this confusion had to affect the slaves just as it did white people, although whites generally did not consider the slaves’ perspective when writing early versions of Kentucky history. Slaves throughout Kentucky might have understood the war on varying terms, depending on where they lived. For most, the war presented an opportunity to run away. And they did leave, in the thousands, expressing their urgent desire to be free.”

” Many chose to enlist in the U.S. Colored Troops as a way to gain freedom for themselves and their families. Many also came into the Colored Troops involuntarily, impressed by the federal army. A total of 23,703 Kentuckians went into the U.S. Colored Troops. Soldiers in the Colored Troops found status among themselves and self-esteem, outfitted with rifles when, as slaves, they had been forbidden to carry arms. They admired themselves in their army uniforms.”

” Whites throughout Kentucky regarded the Colored Troops with hatred. The very idea of people seen as slaves carrying arms was frightening and repulsive. The U.S. Colored Cavalry endured taunts and assaults from whites as the soldiers marched out from Camp Nelson to leave for battle in Virginia. Whites knocked off the soldiers’ hats. They stole some of their horses, too.”

” Charlie Curlin’s descendants do not know precisely how his enlistment came about. But his enlistment and other papers, located at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., show he joined the Colored Troops at Bowling Green in October 1864. Curlin the horse prompted Cunningham, Curlin’s great-grandson, to hire a researcher to learn more about the man’s story.”

“After the horse started doing well, I said, ‘I need to try to authenticate what happened,’” Cunningham said. He contacted Alicestyne Adams, director of Georgetown College’s Underground Railroad Research Institute. We research a lot of African Americans in the Civil War,” said Adams, who also owns Yesteryear Research Unlimited Inc., in Georgetown.”

” Adams happened to be in Washington when Cunningham telephoned her. She went right away to the National Archives and began to research Curlin’s military history. The records produced some curiosities: among them the spelling of Curlin’s name. His enlistment papers show it as “Curling.”

” Later, the “g” is dropped. The muster roll shows that Curlin “owed services to James Curling,” a landowner at Golden Pond, Trigg County. The records describe Curlin, or Curling, as 5-foot-4, weighing 145 pounds, and born approximately in 1841 or 1842. He was thought to be age 21 or 22 when he joined the Colored Troops.”

” His unit was the Thirteenth Heavy Artillery and his job, as Cunningham described, “was like an ammunition mule. He was loaded down with ammunition. He said he was injured from having to walk long distances with heavy ammunition on his back.”

” The disabilities — an injured back and a hernia — explained Curlin’s mustering-out of the army in 1865 before his three-year term had ended. But when he applied for a disability pension, Curlin faced a maze of bureaucratic stonewalling. He did not begin collecting his initial $25 monthly pension until sometime between 1893 and 1900. There is no record of back pay.”

” Adams, excited about the information that has turned up on Curlin, described his military records as “a great case study, what he had to go through” to receive his pension. “He had to go through a lot to get it,” she said.”

” Charlie Curlin died in 1925. Cunningham, 52, remembers the family passing on stories about him and that family lore concerning Curlin was always a focal point at reunions. Now the torch passes to Curlin, the horse, to secure the Curlin family name in Kentucky Derby lore. ”



Now Shirley Cunningham

and all of us can Celebrate

Curlin’s Preakness Victory

in a way White America

doesn’t even know about

nor care about at all

( get it Spike ?? )

Whenever you want to reach us with comments or better yet an idea for a topic for the Box …….

Shirley Cunningham and Curlin