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Derby season in Louisville is festive, and appropriately so. It’s also a fine opportunity to consider our local history, and to pare away tradition’s myths to uncover the core essences beneath the sheen.

One such lesson from the past comes to us courtesy of an excellent article about the efforts of Shirley Mae Beard (Shirley Mae’s Cafe and Bar) to commemorate the Kentucky Derby’s Black jockeys.

As if running a restaurant and a juke joint weren’t enough to keep her busy, Shirley Mae Beard founded the Salute to the Black Jockeys Who Pioneered the Kentucky Derby event in May 1989. (The name was later shortened to Salute to Black Jockeys, Inc.)

Shelby Durbin wrote about Beard’s salute to Black jockeys in a recent issue of the Frazier Kentucky History Museum’s weekly e-newsletter:  “HISTORY ALL AROUND US: Shirley Mae’s Café & Bar in Smoketown Spotlights Black Jockeys.”

At 802 South Clay Street, just south of Clay and Lampton Streets, you’ll find an iconic Louisville restaurant that has been serving soul food since New Year’s Eve of 1988. The restaurant is called Shirley Mae’s Café and Bar, appropriately named after the founder and owner of the business, Shirley Mae Beard.

I don’t know about you, but history inevitably makes me hungry, and Durbin points the way.

If you want to celebrate an important piece of local history (and eat some delicious soul food!) during Derby season—and all year round—I highly encourage you to visit Shirley Mae’s Café and Bar, a Louisville gem. Shirley Mae’s is open for carryout only. Hours of operation are Thursday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visit their website for full menu options.

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