Little Black Sambo on 58 West

Published 8:14 pm Saturday, March 4, 2017

By Therbia U. Parker Sr.

The Virginian-Pilot recently ran a story about a Confederate flag flying near the toll plaza on the Chesapeake Expressway.

The Virginia Flaggers, based out of Richmond, are excited about their 26th flag raised in the Commonwealth.

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To some, the Confederate flag is a symbol of their Southern heritage. To others, it is a symbol of Southern ways.

The Confederate flag has so many different meanings to Americans of every ethnic group. Most African-Americans see the Confederate flag as a hateful reminder of black slavery in America and with the same subtext as the Jewish people view the Nazi swastika.

When I read the article, I began to think about a racist symbol that has been on U.S. Route 58 West in Suffolk for most of my life.

The symbol I am talking about is a hitching post that depicts a black stable boy with grotesque features, colorfully dressed, right arm extended with a ring to tie a horse or hold a lantern, right pants leg rolled up. All exposed skin is jet black, its eyes are white, its lips ruby red and, of course, there is a big smile.

The black community in Suffolk has always viewed the hitching post on 58 West as a reminder of Jim Crow and the depths of racism in America. I have heard stories of people shooting at the hitching post and going downtown to meet with city officials concerning its removal.

The hitching post on 58 West, just like the Confederate flag in Chesapeake, stands on private property. Throughout my travels in the South, I have seen many black lawn jockeys adoring white homes with the same pride as their Confederate flags.

The first black statues were called the Faithful Groomsman, with somewhat realistic features of black slave boys. The hitching posts, lawn jockeys and a large assortment of other black statues and figurines were originally made from cast iron and later concrete. These statues were made starting in the 1800s and mostly sold to the wealthy and business owners.

With the use of concrete, the black lawn jockey with his right hand extended, stooped over with grotesque features, became the most popular of all black statues. The hitching post on 58 West is made of cast iron. Every few years, it gets a new coat of paint, and at Halloween they place a white sheet over it to give it that boys-in-the-hood look.

Throughout America, grotesque depictions of black people have been a sign of white superiority. During the civil rights movement, many of the black lawn ornaments disappeared from white’s lawns, and now symbols that can be seen from afar, such as the Confederate flag in Chesapeake, are the new normal.

I have been a collector of black memorabilia for more than 40 years. Eight years ago I was in an antiques shop in Wakefield, when I found one of those hitching posts. After purchasing it, I began the task of restoring it.

I knew the eyes had to be white, lips ruby red, all exposed skin black and I could paint his clothes any colors I chose.

Six months later and after several color changes I was ready to show the hitching post to my wife. I placed a sheet over the hitching post to give it that ghostly look. As my wife stood there looking, I pulled away the sheet.

There he stood in his bare feet, right pants leg rolled up to his knee; his left hand tucked into his pocket; a yellow-and-red hat sitting on his head; red shirt; his belt buckle, shirt pocket, shirt buttons and neck scar painted gold; a blue belt and shirt collar; yellow pants; white eyes; all exposed skin jet black; ruby red lips; right arm extended, with a gold ring in his hand and a big smile on his face.

I gave my hitching post the name most African-Americans in Suffolk use to refer to the hitching post on 58 West — Little Black Sambo.

The purpose of my hitching post is to remind all of a shameful period in America’s history. When I see the Confederate flag, I am again reminded of a shameful period in America’s history.

Therbia Parker is a Suffolk resident. Email him at