News / USA

Black Cowboys Seek Their Place in History

Many cowboys in the Old West were African-American but you wouldn't know it from TV or the movies

The annual  Black Cowboy Parade in Oakland, California, is the only parade in the country that celebrates the contributions of African-American cowboys.
The annual Black Cowboy Parade in Oakland, California, is the only parade in the country that celebrates the contributions of African-American cowboys.

Multimedia

Audio

Thanks to Hollywood, the word "cowboy" conjures up images of tough, independent men: solitary, weather-beaten and...white. But many of the Old West cowboys were African-American.

Each October, the Black Cowboy Parade in Oakland, California celebrates the role African-Americans played in settling the West after the Civil War of the 1860s.

Cowboy parade

This year's Black Cowboy parade was led by African-Americans on horseback, sitting tall in their saddles, wearing cowboy hats, boots, chaps, spurs and big shiny buckles.

Oakland is a major metropolitan area in the San Francisco Bay Area and the sight of cowboys trotting down its inner-city streets may seem out of place in the 21st century. But the Black Cowboy parade has been held here for the past 36 years. It's the only parade in the country that celebrates the contributions of African-American cowboys.

Wilbert McAlister is president of the Oakland Black Cowboy Association, the parade sponsor. He says term "cowboy" was originally coined by southern plantation owners before the Civil War.

Many parade participants believe they are descended from Black cowboys, who became cattle herders, cooks, ranchers and rodeo riders in the Old West.
Many parade participants believe they are descended from Black cowboys, who became cattle herders, cooks, ranchers and rodeo riders in the Old West.

"You had the house boy that work in the house and the field boy that work in the field. But the barns that houses the cows and horses--someone had to go out there and clean up," says McAlister. "So now they had to have another boy to take care of the cows, take care of the horses, to sleep with the cows out on the prairies because they didn't have any fences. So them boys there, they were called 'cowboys.'"

Black cowboys

After the Civil War and emancipation, many black cowboys took their skills with horses and cattle and headed west. They became cattle herders, cooks, ranchers, and rodeo riders. McAlister is a descendant of Texas cowboys and ranchers. He estimates that almost one-third of range cowboys were African-American.

"It was black cowboys that come out here, that bring food for people, and to have a settlement of a town and make a way for Americans," he says. "That's a contribution and they don't want to give us credit. But we were part of that movement."

Wilbert McAlister, president of the Oakland Black Cowboy Association, says the term 'cowboy' was coined by plantation owners in the Old South before the Civil War.
Wilbert McAlister, president of the Oakland Black Cowboy Association, says the term 'cowboy' was coined by plantation owners in the Old South before the Civil War.

Randy Harris, a rancher and horseman in California's Central Valley for the last 10 years, has attended almost every black cowboy parade. He joined the Oakland Black Cowboy Association two years ago.

"I grew up watching all the westerns. And there was a time period during the 60's and 70's, there was a western on every night of the week," says Harris. ""Bonanza" on Sunday, "Maverick" or somebody on Wednesday, "Wagon Train" - Caucasians, you know. So again we're left out of the history books and television."

Reviving the legacy

The Oakland Black Cowboy Association is doing its part to rectify that omission. Although most OBCA members do not work as full-time cowboys, some are ranchers and others are simply horse enthusiasts. Many of them can trace their lineage to cowboys from the old South.  They keep the memory of black cowboys alive by doing educational programs for schools, churches and neighborhood groups in northern California. 

Cowboy association members, like Randy Harris, keep the memory of black cowboys alive through educational programs at schools, churches and neighborhood groups in northern California.
Cowboy association members, like Randy Harris, keep the memory of black cowboys alive through educational programs at schools, churches and neighborhood groups in northern California.

As part of their presentation, they arrive wearing full cowboy gear and sometimes bring their horses. Most of the children have never seen a horse or ridden on one. Harris believes horses have the power to connect with children. He recalls a group of hardened inner-city kids who visited a stable in the nearby city of Richmond.

"They come in and their pants were sagging and looking at each other cross-eyed. But, by the end of the day, their pants were up and they were helping each other deal with the horse," says Harris. "They forgot where they came from because they had a common goal."

Harris would like to see the Oakland Black Cowboy Association expand its educational mission and become more involved with community service and families. In fact, the OBCA is now trying to establish a mentoring program for young children with its members serving as positive role models.  

You May Like

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid