A photographer has captured pictures of the modern-day Black rodeo circuit to pay homage to the untold stories of African American cowboys. 

Atlanta, Georgia-based photographer Forest McMullin, 66, set out to explore the largely ignored history of Black cowboys in the United States, and during his search, he found a dedicated circuit of contemporary practitioners honoring their historical lineage.

‘The history of African American cowboys and their role in settling the West has been largely ignored by historians and the media despite the fact that around 25 per cent of cowboys were African American,’ he said.

Giddy up! A photographer has captured pictures of the modern-day Black rodeo circuit to pay homage to the untold stories of African American cowboys

Giddy up! A photographer has captured pictures of the modern-day Black rodeo circuit to pay homage to the untold stories of African American cowboys

On film: Atlanta, Georgia-based photographer Forest McMullin, 66, documents the ignored history of Black cowboys in the United States

On film: Atlanta, Georgia-based photographer Forest McMullin, 66, documents the ignored history of Black cowboys in the United States

'The history of African American cowboys and their role in settling the West has been largely ignored ... despite the fact that around 25% of cowboys were African American,' he said

‘The history of African American cowboys and their role in settling the West has been largely ignored … despite the fact that around 25% of cowboys were African American,’ he said

Howdy! McMullin's photographs show both men and women in cowboy hats and boots

Howdy! McMullin’s photographs show both men and women in cowboy hats and boots

Snapped: In one striking photograph taken in Birmingham, Alabama, two Black males donned Stetsons as they sat atop their horses with the Birmingham skyline in the background

Snapped: In one striking photograph taken in Birmingham, Alabama, two Black males donned Stetsons as they sat atop their horses with the Birmingham skyline in the background

'There are a number of groups across the United States who celebrate this heritage honoring those people and welcoming them into the pantheon of American heroes,' McMullin said

‘There are a number of groups across the United States who celebrate this heritage honoring those people and welcoming them into the pantheon of American heroes,’ McMullin said

McMullin’s photographs show both men and women in cowboy hats and boots. Some pose outside in jeans and T-shirts, while others are photographed in full rodeo mode, riding horses in front of audiences. 

In one striking photograph taken in Birmingham, Alabama, two Black males donned Stetsons as they sat atop their horses with the Birmingham skyline in the background.

Another photograph, which was taken in Columbia, South Carolina, shows a cowboy sitting in the doorway of his trailer, wearing traditional cowboy outfit including chaps and boots.

‘There are a number of groups across the United States who celebrate this heritage honoring those people and welcoming them into the pantheon of American heroes,’ McMullin said.

Cowgirl! There are women on the scene, too, including Sharon Darden, pictured in Georgia

Cowgirl! There are women on the scene, too, including Sharon Darden, pictured in Georgia

'I first heard about the [Colorado-based] Bill Pickett Rodeo in a weekly entertainment newspaper. The idea of a Black rodeo immediately caught my eye,' the photographer said

‘I first heard about the [Colorado-based] Bill Pickett Rodeo in a weekly entertainment newspaper. The idea of a Black rodeo immediately caught my eye,’ the photographer said

For all ages! The tradition is even being taken up by the youngest generation

For all ages! The tradition is even being taken up by the youngest generation

 

'I made contact with the rodeo promoters and soon discovered there was a whole circuit of Black rodeos,' he added

'I made contact with the rodeo promoters and soon discovered there was a whole circuit of Black rodeos,' he added

‘I made contact with the rodeo promoters and soon discovered there was a whole circuit of Black rodeos,’ he added

Horse shows: The photographer has spent the last two years traveling to Black rodeos

Horse shows: The photographer has spent the last two years traveling to Black rodeos

‘I first heard about the [Colorado-based] Bill Pickett Rodeo in a weekly entertainment newspaper. The idea of a Black rodeo immediately caught my eye. I’d spent most of my life in the Northeastern US and there, horse culture is almost exclusively under the domain of the white upper class.

‘I made contact with the rodeo promoters and soon discovered there was a whole circuit of Black rodeos. I traveled to many over the following two years.’

In the early 1800s, white settlers traveled to Texas in the pursuit of cheap land, bringing their enslaved people with them. 

By 1860, reportedly 30 per cent of Texas’ population was made up of enslaved people. 

In 1861, Texas joined the Confederacy and many white Texans left the state to take up arms in the American Civil War.

History lesson: In the early 1800s, white settlers traveled to Texas in the pursuit of cheap land, bringing their enslaved people with them

History lesson: In the early 1800s, white settlers traveled to Texas in the pursuit of cheap land, bringing their enslaved people with them

Lots of people: By 1860, reportedly 30 per cent of Texas’ population was made up of enslaved people

Lots of people: By 1860, reportedly 30 per cent of Texas’ population was made up of enslaved people

Lots of people: By 1860, reportedly 30 per cent of Texas’ population was made up of enslaved people

More history: In 1861, Texas joined the Confederacy and many white Texans left the state to take up arms in the American Civil War

More history: In 1861, Texas joined the Confederacy and many white Texans left the state to take up arms in the American Civil War

How they got here: During this time, maintaining cattle herds and land was left to the slaves, and many acquired a series of useful skills

How they got here: During this time, maintaining cattle herds and land was left to the slaves, and many acquired a series of useful skills

How they got here: During this time, maintaining cattle herds and land was left to the slaves, and many acquired a series of useful skills

'Many people I spoke to appreciated the fact that someone was interested in telling the stories of modern cowboys,' the photographer said

‘Many people I spoke to appreciated the fact that someone was interested in telling the stories of modern cowboys,’ the photographer said

During this time, maintaining cattle herds and land was left to the slaves, and many acquired a series of useful skills. 

When the Emancipation Proclamation was announced, white land-owners hired the recently-freed African Americans to tend the land for a wage.

‘The reaction has been almost entirely positive. Many people I spoke to appreciated the fact that someone was interested in telling the stories of modern cowboys,’ the photographer said. 

‘By the third or fourth rodeo, I began to see the same people again so it felt very much like a reunion.

‘One person did comment online asking, “Why are we letting a white man tell this story about African Americans?” 

‘There was an immediate response that said, “Who cares who tells the story as long as the story gets told.”



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