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Presque Isle Township board votes to remove lawn jockey statue from lighthouse

News Photo by Temi Fadayomi Sherry Milstein on Monday advocates before the Presque Isle Township Board of Trustees for the removal of the lawn jockey at the lighthouse.

PRESQUE ISLE TOWNSHIP — The Presque Isle Township Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Monday to remove the lawn jockey that decorates the steps of one of its lighthouses.

The lawn jockey is a small statue of a black man wearing a jockey uniform with a rein in his hand. The statue has large eyes and big lips in the style of racist caricatures of African Americans seen during minstrel shows of the distant past.

It sits in front of the lightkeeper’s house at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse.

The jockey has been a source of controversy for many years, culminating in 123 residents of Presque Isle Township requesting the statue’s removal in a letter to the township board, which oversees the lighthouse park.

“It’s been bothering me for some time,” said Sherry Milstein, one of the organizers of the petition. “I found a lot of like minds and decided that we needed to do something.”

During the community comments portion of the meeting, some argued that the lawn jockey should stay a means of educating those who visit the lighthouse on the history of racism and abolitionism, citing lawn jockeys’ alleged history as a tool for the underground railroad or the alleged tale of the first lawn jockey statue being commissioned by President George Washington as a commemoration of an African American boy who froze to death assisting him in the Revolutionary War.

Others argued that the lighthouse isn’t the proper venue for such conversations with cast doubt that lawn jockeys hold any historical weight outside of their racist depictions, citing the likes of professors like David Pilgram, founder of the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University who believes there is little historical evidence supporting those claims.

Ultimately, of the 45 residents who stood up to speak, an overwhelming majority of them were in favor of the lawn jockey’s removal from the lighthouse.

“All I can do is thank all of the residents who have come out,” board Treasurer Jennifer Wieczorkowski said to a room of more than 50 attendants after she and the rest of the board voted to have the statue removed from the lighthouse grounds.

Many of those in attendance suggested that the lawn jockey be donated or loaned to the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University.

As of now, the board remains undecided on the lawn jockey’s ultimate fate.

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