Similar to the stories of the many African-Americans who fought in WWII, the role of black cowboys and cowgirls in the American West has been largely whitewashed from history. Today this tradition has been not only unearthed, but preserved, in the Martin Luther King Jr. African-American Heritage Rodeo, taking place today at the National Western Stock Show.
“If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was hard for a black guy to be a cowboy,” says Kevin Woodson of Cowboys of Color, speaking in the 2013 documentary The Forgotten Cowboys. “But it’s not odd in the least bit. Historically, one out of every four cowboys was a black man. These are things that can go unseen, and then black people and white people think it’s odd for us to be cowboys, but it isn’t. It’s virtually impossible to have a true chronicle of the West and not mention the part that black people had in it. Even the word ‘cowboy’ is connected to black people, because you had the guy that took care of the horses, the horse boy, and then the water boy, the cabin boy and the cowboy. But back then it wasn’t a fashionable job; it was just the cowboy.”
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