Celebrating Black Excellence at the 150th Kentucky Derby Celebration

Undoubtedly, when we—as Black people—show up in a space, we show out. On May 4, 2024—Kentucky Derby Day—Black excellence was on full display.

EBONY witnessed all the grandeur and opulence associated with the famous horse race held annually at Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky, which celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Kentucky Derby this year.

Eden bridgeman sklenar
EBONY CEO Eden Bridgeman Sklenar celebrates the Kentucky Derby’s “Run for the Roses” theme backstage at the event’s red carpet. Image: EBONY.
Ink country singer
Country artist Atiya “Ink” Boggs, who worked with Beyoncé on the Cowboy Carter album, was spotted on the red carpet at the Kentucky Derby 2024. Image: EBONY.
Sheryl Lee Ralph walks the red carpet before the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 4, 2024, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. (Photo by Jeff Moreland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Sheryl Lee Ralph worked a white suit with a black hat for the carpet at the 150th Kentucky Derby. Image: Jeff Moreland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.
Sandra "Pepa" Denton
Sandra “Pepa” Denton at the 150th Kentucky Derby. Image: EBONY.
Members of Black Menswear look dapper at the 150th Kentucky Derby. Image: EBONY.
Renowned fashion designers Anifa Mvuemba of Hanifa and Sergio Hudson showcased their collaborations with Woodford Reserve, a Kentucky-based luxury bourbon company. Image: courtesy of Woodford Reserve.

Woodford Reserve-inspired designs at the 150th Kentucky Derby. Image: courtesy of Woodford Reserve.
Anifa Mvuemba and Sergio Hudson’s designs were based on the colors and traditions of Woodford and the 150th Kentucky Derby. Image: courtesy of Woodford Reserve.
Woods Family_Kentucky Derby
Natasha Davis (r) and the Woods family at the 150th Kentucky Derby. Image: EBONY.

Black Menswear, the global cultural impact agency changing the perception of how the world sees Black men, was also in attendance. “We were able to really get into this Kentucky community,” stated Rock Mitchell, Black Menswear’s Chief Creative Officer.

But Kentucky Derby Day isn’t the only day Black people make their presence known at the Derby. The Kentucky Oaks, the prestigious race held annually in Louisville the Friday before the Derby, is another day to see our style and presence in full force. Hailing from Louisville, the Woods family has been coming out to celebrate in the family dress code, which this year was the color green, for more than a decade.

“It was my father and aunt first, the two of them. She moved away, so I said that I’d take her place. And then it just got bigger,” hometown resident Natasha Davis shared with EBONY. “It’s big for us because not many of us come to this, which they should. We live here and were born and raised here. A lot of people think we’re from out of town. Last year, we wore purple.”

Shante P. (second r) and friends at the 150th Kentucky Derby. Image: EBONY.
Shante P. (second from r) and friends at the 150th Kentucky Derby. Image: EBONY.

Shante P. is a fellow hometown resident who attends the Oaks annually. “I was born and raised here in Louisville, so I’ve been making it official that I come for the last six years,” she shared with EBONY during the Oaks’ Lilies of the Fillies event, which features 3-year-old mares running the races for the top prize. “This is all a part of Louisville’s history and culture, and we deserve to experience it.”

Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Image: EBONY.

And then there’s Thurby, the Thursday before the Kentucky Derby, which has become a big draw for the city’s Black residents. Lousiville resident Shantal E. Cabell explains, “It’s when we are able to come out or share and be a part of Derby, because Derby usually isn’t for us.” Thurby Guests can experience the Derby in the private suites usually reserved for celebrities and millionaires.

Louisville mayor Craig Greenberg is excited to see more diversity represented at the Derby through Derby Diversity Week, five days leading up to Kentucky Debry Day that bridges gaps, champions inclusion and epitomizes the spirit of unity, perseverance, and communal resilience. “It is so important that this brings our entire community together,” he told EBONY. “[The Kentucky Derby] is a race that we need to unite our city and our country. I’m all in on the great diversity that Churchill Downs and our city are working on together.”

Delaina Dixon and Gitory Bartell at Kentucky Derby 2024
EBONY correspondents Delaina Dixon and Gitory Bartell at Kentucky Derby 2024. Image: EBONY.

And so, as this reporter learned, Black America has a place at the Kentucky Derby, and we should confidentially slip into our spectators and linen suits to rightfully take our seats in the President’s suites.

Updated: May 6, 2024 — 6:02 pm