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 Anti-Muslim Sponsor of Texas Cartoon Contest Draws Ire

Pamela Geller's supporters say she speaks truth about sensitive topic, while critics say she preaches 'that Islam is inherently evil' More

East Meets West in Exhibition Showing Chinese Influence on Fashion

Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition juxtaposes influence of art, imagery and culture, from Imperial China to the present day, on Western fashion and design More

South Africa Begins New Love Affair With Vinyl Records

Enthusiasts say the 'rebirth' of vinyl is resulting in a rebirth of music in South Africa 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.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs