BLACK COWBOYS of RODEO
UNSUNG HEROES from HARLEM to HOLLYWOOD and the AMERICAN WEST
NOVEMBER 1, 2021
They ride horses and bulls, rope calves, buck broncs, fight bulls, and even wrestle steers. They are cowboys. But because of the color of their skin, the legacies of their pursuits intersected with America’s struggle for racial equality, human rights, and social justice.
Beginning at the dawn of the twentieth century, BLACK COWBOYS OF RODEO is a collection of more than one hundred years’ worth of cowboy stories set against the backdrop of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, segregation, the civil rights movement, and, eventually, the integration of a racially divided country. Every chapter reveals a revolutionary Black pioneer whose accomplishments and rightful place in history have largely gone unrecognized.
They no longer will be among the nameless in American history.
Their individual and collective stories are compiled from firsthand con- versations with the cowboys themselves—all of whom share their unique and deeply personal narratives—and those who witnessed history. In keeping with the likes of Jack Johnson, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and, more recently, Colin Kaepernick, the stories of Black rodeo cowboys also have had social and political implications.
Can I get a “Yee-ha!” Black Cowboys of Rodeo is a marvel of a book—built with muscular research and smooth writing, resurrecting larger-than-life characters who will amaze and inspire readers. Cowboys have long been symbols of American grit and self-reliance. Black cowboys are that and more. Thank goodness their stories are finally being told—and told so beautifully.
— JONATHAN EIG; Best-Selling Author
Ali: A Life
My personal fascination with The Old West was ignited when I was 7 years old. Our family owned a sprawling ranch in Guffey, Colorado, within the Rocky Mountains. This was my introduction to the life and history of the cowboy, more specifically the black cowboy. Hollywood has not always been on the right side of history when it comes to portraying Black cowboys, but a thoroughly researched book like Black Cowboys of Rodeo finally amends that narrative. I was excited to see my friends Glynn Turman, Obba Babatunde, James Pickens Jr., and Reginald T. Dorsey share their own untold stories of team roping and riding horses right alongside the accomplishments of Bill Pickett, Charlie Sampson and Fred Whitfield.
— BLAIR UNDERWOOD; Actor, Producer and Director
Keith Ryan Cartwright’s masterful excavation of the contribution of Black cowboys to American History is both rich and timely. The engaging stories of the individuals chronicled in Black Cowboys of Rodeo: Unsung Heroes from Harlem to Hollywood and the American West chronicle the lives and struggles of men who were not only field hand and laborers, but family men, businessmen, entertainers and entrepreneurs. This book will be illuminating to many still unfamiliar with the important role they played in the taming and shaping of the American West.
— DR. YOHURU WILLIAMS; Founding Director
Racial Justice Initiative at University of St. Thomas
From the Gene Autry epigraph that opens it, this entire book is a revelation—a lively and comprehensive look at a subculture, but one that spills its bounds to become a sweeping panorama of American life. Depression-era foreclosures, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, crashing the Oscars, John Wayne’s Dollar and Roy Rogers’ Trigger, plus cameos from Willie Nelson, Medgar Evers, Aretha Franklin’s ex-husband, and Muhammad Ali (on horseback!)—hold on for the ride, because Black Cowboys of Rodeo will buck off every one of your preconceptions.
— ALEXANDER WOLFF; Best-Selling Author
The Audacity of Hoop: Basketball and the Age of Obama
Big Game, Small World: A Basketball Adventure
Keith Ryan Cartwright’s book is an essential corrective to the lilywhite history of the cowboy and the American West that has been promoted by motion pictures and white supremacist for centuries. It works as both a sweeping look at the Cowboy ethos and profiles of scores and men (and women), whose greatness made America.
—NELSON GEORGE; Author, Filmmaker, Music and Culture Critic
Black Cowboys of Rodeo is a much-needed look at the lives of modern Black cowboys. For too long, this story has been overlooked. But that omission stops with this book. Keith Ryan Cartwright takes readers on a journey from farm life in Oklahoma, to the Jim Crow south, the bright lights of Hollywood, and the streets of Harlem. Filled with stories of famous men like the legendary Bill Picket and many other unheralded Black men who scraped their way to make a living in rodeo, Cartwright has produced a beautifully written manuscript about Black manhood.
—LOUIS MOORE; Best-Selling Author
We Will Win the Day: The Civil Rights Movement
I Fight for a Living: Boxing and the Battle for Black Manhood 1880–1915
It’s weird to call it a book. It seems like so much more than that. Keith Ryan Cartwright is a master storyteller, who has accomplished what could be considered his life’s work in his first attempt. This is a very important book coming at an equally important time.
—TY MURRAY; Nine-Time PRCA World Champion