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Texas

History-rich black cowboy exhibit helps tell untold stories

From the age of 2, Kevin Woodson wanted to be a cowboy.

It didn’t take long for him to realize that black cowboys weren’t very believable, at least that’s what he was told over and over again.

That’s why Woodson, who tells the story of the many black men, women, and children who worked on the ranch and were involved in the cattle drive, says exhibits like Black Cowboys: An American History at the African American Museum and others like it are very important.

Kevin Woodson, rodeo announcer and black cowboy(submitted/sent)

“As black cowboys, we spend our whole lives not only doing what we love, but showing people that we are real,” said Woodson, 66, from Denton, who announces a rodeo for Cowboys of Color, an organization focused on showcasing “the finest rodeo cowboy talent” as well as educating people about the role of Africans, Natives, Hispanics, and European Americans in settling the American West.

The annual Hoedown Rodeo in Dallas to showcase black cowboy history by June.

Woodson hopes the exhibition’s storytelling will help pull back the curtains of Hollywood as people see and share stories like the fact that a classic The lone ranger The TV show was based on a black man named Bass Reeves. He also wants to make sure the truth is out about the western television star Duke, played by actor John Wayne. This character was based on a real-life black cowboy named Britt Johnson, says Woodson.

“Because of traditional Western movies, people have been conditioned to think that all cowboys are white guys, and that’s just not true,” said Woodson, who has a career in rodeo, which he says has been an open door for people. Black cowboys in action.

“Most people don’t see ranch people working on ranches. It’s like everything else, if you don’t see it, you don’t believe it. I still get people coming to me asking me if I just wear a big hat or if I can ride a horse,” Woodson said.

Vintage saddles, videos and photographs on display show that black cowboys are not only real and can ride horses, but have played an important role in Texas’ western history. This is the history that visitors will see, the influence of black cowboys from the Civil War to the turn of the 20th century.

“The Black Cowboy exhibition fills a gap in what has been said about the American West. We want to tell the real story of what it really was, not the romanticized version that we see on TV and in many films,” said Robert Edison, curator of the Dallas African American Museum in Fair Park.

The exhibit includes two galleries of black cowboys who helped farm the Texas and Oklahoma ranches. The galleries are filled with artifacts depicting their way of life.

For Harlan Hearn and his two brothers Robbie and Wendell, who visited the show on Saturday, being a cowboy is an everyday life, like a rodeo. All three grew up in the shadow of their famous father, Cleo, who founded the Cowboys of Color Rodeo and is housed in the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

“My father organized one of the first black rodeos in Harlem, New York, in 1971. The following year, he organized a rodeo in New Jersey,” said Harlan Hearn, who works with his brothers to keep his father’s legacy alive.

People stop to read informative posts in Black Cowboys: An American History...
People stop to read the information poles at the Black Cowboys: An American History exhibit on its opening day Saturday at the African American Museum in Fair Park in Dallas.(Juan Figueroa / staff photographer)
Black Cowboys: An American History exhibit on opening day Saturday at...
“Black Cowboys: American History” exhibit on Saturday’s opening day at the African American Museum in Fair Park in Dallas.(Juan Figueroa / staff photographer)

Walking through the exhibit, Harlan Hearn calls it impressive as he and his brothers look at the untold stories of black cowboys like Bill Pickett, Myrtis Deitman and Nat Love.

Harlan Hearn hopes the exhibition will inspire young people to realize that there are more options than football, soccer and athletics.

“There are other things they can do. They don’t need to compete. If they have a love for animals, they can be a veterinarian or animal trainer. There are so many different possibilities,” he said.

They might be like Woodson, who with years of rodeo experience has also fought bulls and is a trainer.

“The sky is the limit today because of all the social media available. We also have several black world champions; for example, Shad Mayfield, who became the third black world rodeo champion. Fred Whitfield is also a black rodeo cowboy who has won eight-time world rope tying champion,” Woodson said.

Do you want to go?

WHAT KIND: Exhibition “Black Cowboys: American History”

WHEN: January 20, 2023 – June 15, 2023

WHERE: African American Museum, 3536 Grand Avenue Fair Park

PRICE: Free

Kim Brown looks at Glen Brown as he saddles up in Black Cowboys: An American...
Kim Brown looks at Glen Brown as he saddles up at the Black Cowboys: An American History exhibit on its opening day Saturday at the African American Museum in Fair Park in Dallas.(Juan Figueroa / staff photographer)

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