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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regreti
X
Zana Omer
March 28, 2015 1:19 AM
The Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

The Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Virginia Tavern Takes Patrons Back to Medieval Times

European martial arts are not widely practiced and are unknown by most people. A tavern in Old Town Alexandria, outside Washington, wants to change this by promoting these fighting techniques from medieval times. Through combining visual arts, martial arts and culinary arts, this tavern brings medieval history back to life. VOA's Yang Lin and Helen Wu report.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More