It would be incorrect to say that I knew where my ancestors came from. We of African descent oftentimes just generalize that we are from Africa. But is that true? Some of us can only guess. Some may try to use Ancestry.com as proof. But is that true? We can never truly confirm because of our history. A history that was erased. But one history that we never really cherish as much as we should is the one that can be traced. The one that's often only 1 to 2 generations behind. That's the history of the black cowboy. A legacy that has recently been getting the appreciation that it should have been getting all along. And three filmmakers Kian (35-0), Video Hereo, and Nicole Jocleen captured just that in their film called Riding Legacy. And I had to seize the opportunity and see just what this film was about.
If you have Netflix than you've probably watched Concrete Cowboy, a movie that documents black cowboys passing down the traditions and skillsets to the younger generation. What's most compelling is that this ranch is in the city. But if you have ever been to the northside of Tulsa then you've also seen horses. Just like in other small black towns over Oklahoma, you can see cowboys riding their horses on street blocks. But it's not until you watch Riding Legacy that you realize just how deep the roots of black cowboys go.
So, you might be thinking, there's always been black cowboys in movies. That's where you'd be wrong. Hollywood has traditionally whited out our black heroes'. Even the cowboys. One example is the famous 'Lone Ranger' who was actually based off the black sheriff Bass Reeves. Reeves had been born a slave but escaped West during the Civil War where he lived in what was then known as Indian Territory and is historically noted as the first black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi River. He worked mostly in Arkansas and the Oklahoma Territory. I say that to say, we didn't learn that in school, but we did know about Jesse James and Buffalo Bill, and all the other white people who shaped the west. Our history is so rich. That's what community tells you that academic books won't.
Riding Legacy took you deep into what it was like to be a black cowboy. That's something that we take for granted as spectators of the sport. The time away from family, the injuries, the buy ins to even compete, the time in the gym to train your body, and most importantly the legacy. What most captured my attention is seeing the legacy of the riders competing. We're talking generations deep, 5th and 6th generations of cowboys still carrying on the family name. That's what Jay-Z rapped about. Legacy, Black excellence baby, you gon' let 'em see. We saw cousins, brothers, sisters, old and young all competing. We saw the family rivalries, few people know why, but best believe the rivalry is still alive.
Another thing I really liked is how film highlighted the female cowboys. You get to see just what they deal with when competing. You see their strength. You see their competiveness. You get to see them as the athletes they are. Because just like their male counterparts they also deal with injuries and the heated moments. There's even been times when women cowboys have been known to compete in men competitions. These women show just how much heart they have and often are fighting to keep their family names going for generations to come. One of the women cowboys spoke about being pregnant while still competing but not knowing about it. That makes her way stronger than a man in my book.
The riding legacy also showed how the black rodeos are similar to the chitlin circuit that so many black stars came up out of. It is the small black towns that host these events and are filled with the rich history of black cowboys. These cities include Spencer, Oklahoma City, Taft, Okmulgee, and others. These small-town shows have birthed black cowboys that have went on to compete and win on the big stages like the PBR (Professional Bull Riders organization) and other places where the big sponshorship money is. But you can always come back home and see Riding Legacy.
Check out the Riding Legacy Q&A session at Circle Cinema's Film Festival below.
After watching the documentary, I came back with a sense of pride. And I made it a mission to go to the Okmulgee rodeo and see the legacies right there carrying on their family names and the spirit that is the black cowboy.
Of course, everyone stayed for the Pony Express event. An event that is unique to the black rodeos and has gained popularity over the years.
So next time you hear about the black rodeo events. Go out and support. Believe me, you won't regret seeing the community that has been built and the legacy that is the black cowboy.