“In the ‘50s and ‘60s, there was a drive among black folks … to excel and overcome all sorts of barriers in order to achieve what they wanted to achieve. I’m not surprised at all that a sizable number of black cowboys, who’ve been misrepresented and not represented in our history books and films, were among those who did that.”

Rev. James Lawson,
leading nonviolence advocate during the Civil Rights Movement



They ride horses, rope calves, buck broncs, ride and fight bulls and they even wrestle steers. They are black cowboys, and the spirit of their pursuits intersected with America’s struggle for racial equality, human rights and social justice.

Black Cowboys of Rodeo is a collection of 100 years-worth of rodeo stories set against the backdrop of segregation, the Civil Rights Movement and eventually the integration of a racially divided country—told by the unsung heroes whose accomplishments and rightful place in history has been disregarded and all but forgotten.

The late ‘50s and early ‘60s was a unique time in our country’s history. Much like Jackie Robinson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall and the Little Rock Nine, despite all that black cowboys had to overcome from Harlem to Compton and the American West, these pioneers also endured hardships, and collectively broke through racial barriers and glass ceilings.

Black Cowboys of Rodeo challenges the narrative that the greatest victories of black Americans were somehow accomplished by the stroke of a presidential pen, when in fact, they stood up and proved themselves in their chosen field.

These revolutionary black pioneers of rodeo shall no longer remain nameless.

Bill Pickett | Cleo Hearn | Rex Purefoy | Myrtis Dightman | Willie Thomas
Tex Williams | Bailey’s Prairie Kid | Calvin Greely | Marvel Rogers
Charles Evans | Bud Bramwell |
Jesse C.R. Hall | Barry Moore
Gene, Willie Ed and Jimmy Lee Walker | Charlie Sampson
Thyrl and Mike Latting | Dwayne Hargo, Sr. | Dihigi Gladney
Fred Whitfield | Lee Akin

“The joy of the work you do is that you’re really bringing nuance, complexity and subtlety. That’s why I’m excited about what you’re doing. You’re helping people realize there are whole parts of their identity missing.”

Lonnie Bunch III,
Executive Director, National Museum of African American History and Culture