Abstract Background Osteoarthritis (OA) prevalence differs by race. General joint hypermobility (GJH) may be associated with OA, but differences by race are not known. This community-based study examined the frequency of GJH and its relationship with knee, hip, and lumbar spine OA by race (African American vs. Caucasian). Methods Data were from the Johnston County OA project, collected 2003–2010. GJH was defined as Beighton score ≥4. OA symptoms were defined as the presence of pain, aching, or stiffness on most days separately at the knee, hip, and lower back. Radiographic OA (rOA) of the knee or hip was defined as Kellgren-Lawrence grade 2–4. Lumbar spine rOA was disc space narrowing grade ≥1 and osteophyte grade ≥2 in ≥ 1 at the same lumbar level. Lumbar spine facet rOA was present in ≥ 1 lumbar levels. Separate logistic regression models stratified by race were used to examine the association between hypermobility and rOA or OA symptoms at each joint site, adjusting for age, sex, previous joint injury, and body mass index (BMI). Results Of 1987 participants, 1/3 were African-American and 2/3 were women (mean age 65 years, mean BMI 31 kg/m2). Nearly 8% of Caucasians were hypermobile vs. 5% of African-Americans (p = 0.03). Hypermobility was associated with lower back symptoms in Caucasians (adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 1.54, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.00, 2.39), but not in African-Americans (aOR 0.77, 95% CI 0.34, 1.72). Associations between hypermobility and other knee, hip, or lumbar spine/facet OA variables were not statistically significant. Conclusions General joint hypermobility was more common in Caucasians than African-Americans. Although there were no associations between hypermobility and rOA, the association between hypermobility and lower back symptoms may differ by race.