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

    Video Pop Icon Prince Quietly Helped Afghan Orphans for Years

    He sent thousands of dollars to help an aid group rebuild a training center for orphan boy and girl scouts in Kabul, but kept his involvement secret

    Mali, a Way Station for Syrians Headed to Europe

    Another door may be closing for Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country, this time in Africa

    Britain’s Muslims See London Mayor Race as Victory

    Mere running of 45-year-old former government minister and son of Pakistani immigrants Sadiq Khan seen by many as turning point

    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.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora