The cowboy is an icon of American culture. But the popular image of the white cowboy skews our perception of what kind of Americans did—and do—cowboying work.
The American West after the Civil War was a dynamic and ethnically diverse place. As many as a quarter of the cowboys during the frontier era were African Americans.
Remembering these Americans is crucial to understanding the west as a region and the United States as a country. As author Mike Searles stated in a 2010 NPR interview, “Many people see the West as the birthplace of America. If they only see it as the birthplace of white America, it means basically that all other people are interlopers—they’re not part of what makes an American.”
In this season of American Songster Radio, Dom looks back to the Old West to uncover the African American roots of the American cowboy. Through a mix of personal essays, live conversation, and music performance, he traces the black history of the west from the Civil War through the struggle for civil rights.
The Black Cowboys podcast was recorded live at Pearl Street Warehouse in Washington D.C. in front of an audience that included staff at Folkways, National Museum of African American History & Culture, and the Library of Congress. The moderator was Folkways Senior Archivist Jeff Place.