Bill Picket’s all-black invitational rodeo will air on national television for the very first time in June
Valeria Howard-Cunningham has competed in countless black rodeos over the past three decades; first with her husband, the late Lu Vason, then as the leader of the traveling rodeo he founded to highlight the legacy of black cowboys and cowgirls. With the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo (BPIR), the first all-black touring rodeoHoward-Cunningham has seen generations of families get the opportunity to compete and visit towns they might not otherwise have visited.
Carolyn Carter, who grew up in Spencer, Oklahoma, is one of those families. She was introduced to rodeo by her older sisters before competing for the first time in the 1980s. “They literally threw me on a horse and said ‘Here, hold on’,” she tells Mic laughing. “I competed and ran barrels, and I won a lot of money and I was like, ‘Oh, that was fun. I could do it again. ‘ Carter says she was drawn to BPIR by the idea that she could travel and earn more money than she received in local competitions. “I raised my kids on the road and they’ve been everywhere four times, [all] because of it, ”she said. Today, Carter’s daughter and granddaughter are also involved in the rodeo.
Howard-Cunningham says all-black rodeos are a rarity, providing an opportunity for black competitors to take center stage in front of a majority black audience in a sport where they are often in the minority. “Our goal is to educate and entertain everyone about the history of black cowboys and cowgirls in the development of the West and to let them know that they exist today. And to inspire our young people, ”she tells Mic.
This weekend, 37 years after its creation, BPIR will have its greatest opportunity to fulfill this long-standing mission. Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo – Vegas Showdown airs on CBS this June at 1 p.m.. – the first time an all-black rodeo has aired on national television. The event was filmed last weekend in Las Vegas in partnership with Professional Bull Riders and will feature seven events, including bareback and bulldog, or steer wrestling – the latest of which was created by the late Bill Pickett him. -even. Pickett, whose BPIR is named, is a rodeo legend and the first African-American cowboy to be inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City; his saddle has been on display since the 1980s.
Michael Grauer, one of the museum’s curators, has worked to accurately document the stories of cowboys – including blacks and Hispanics who have participated in rodeos – for years. “There have always been black cowboys who were part of [rodeos]he said to Mic. “For example, in Canadian Texas in 1888, the man who won the rodeo competition was a black cowboy. Coming with the Wild West shows, there were always blacks or Hispanics [in] this equation. This is how Bill Pickett became famous. He became very famous nationally and internationally.
Through his research, Grauer says he’s seen evidence that black rodeos have been around for a long time, especially in areas heavily populated by African Americans. “There have always been black rodeos,” he says. “There is a very large circuit in Southeast Texas and that reflects the fact that the Texas Gulf Coast was dominated by black cowboys; also, in eastern Oklahoma. Grauer says his biggest challenge as a curator was acquiring precise and specific items for black cowboys, given that they often used equipment similar to white cowboys.
Of course, not all cowboys participate in the rodeo, but black Americans make up a significant percentage of cowboys who don’t either. Grauer estimates that about 20-25% of cowboys who were on ranches or trails are black.
Carter describes horse riders – those who enjoy riding horses on various trails, often for recreation – as the cowboys we often think of when we hear songs like “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X. The 2018 song , who currently holds the record for the longest consecutive race (19 weeks) at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, is just one example of the black cowboy culture that has taken center stage in popular culture in recent years. Earlier this year, a Today’s segment of the show highlighted the with an accompanying article noting “Black Celebrities Help Solidify the Black Cowboy’s Place in the Mainstream – From Solange Knowles ‘Metallic Boots to Lil’ Nas X and Her Gucci Cowboy Hat to Megan’s Dazzled Chaps Thee Stallion “. And in April, Netflix is out Concrete cowboy, a movie starring Idris Elba and Caleb McLaughlin based on a book about black cowboys in Philadelphia. Scenes from the film show the cowboys not only on horseback, but also coming together to talk about life and pass on their story. “They live everywhere,” Carter says of trail runners portrayed in movies like Concrete cowboy. “They get together maybe one weekend a month, and they’re going to hike, barbecue, sit and hang out all weekend.”
Still, Grauer says some people in the cowboy community pointed out the contributions of black cowboys even before these stories began to reach the general public. In the 2006 biography Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves, Author Art T. Burton argued that the fictional Lone Ranger character, described as a white cowboy in popular culture, was actually inspired by Bass Reeves, a once enslaved black man who was the first United States Black Vice Marshal west of the Mississippi. In a 2019 article, Texas monthly noted that “There has never been conclusive evidence linking the two,” but “although Reeves is the only lawyer in US history whose accomplishments have surpassed those of the Lone Ranger, his life has long remained overshadowed by the great stories of an imaginary white man. “
As these stories come out, Grauer emphasizes the importance of verifying them – although given the often oral nature of African American history, that could prove difficult. A belief that persisted suggests that the term “cowboy” was a derivative of “boy” or “cowboy,” a derogatory term used to refer to African American men working with cattle – as opposed to the term “cowhand,” which was used for men white. Grauer says he couldn’t find any supporting documents, however. “In my opinion, it’s one of those urban legends,” he says. “It’s entirely possible, but I haven’t seen it myself.”
Much like Grauer, documenting this story for future generations is a huge goal for Howard-Cunningham, head of BPIR. It’s a common refrain in conversations with Howard-Cunnningham and Carter when discussing the significance of the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo – Vegas Showdown becoming the first all-black rodeo to air on television. PBR announced its partnership with BPIR during Black History Month earlier this year, as part of the company’s recent efforts to expand the brand’s reach and create additional opportunities for athletes, including women. and people of color. the June 17 broadcast met in the months following the February announcement, according to a spokesperson for PBR. The hope is that increased media attention could lead to new career opportunities, including potential sponsorships, for some of the black athletes who participated in the rodeo.
BPIR already has a few teenage contestants hoping to carry on the legacy, including Colorado residents Savannah and Aleeyah Roberts, 13 and 19. The two sisters began to ride horses from an early age. “I remember going to a local rodeo,” says Aleeyah. “I was watching these little girls doing barrel races, and I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’ That’s what started it all – she ultimately inspired her younger sister, Savannah, to participate as well.
Aleeyah and Savannah both competed at this year’s BPIR – Vegas Showdown, although the older sister admits her competitive days have dwindled now that she is in college hoping to earn a medical degree. “We’ve been doing Black rodeos for a while now,” says Aleeyah. “They feel at home. In order for us to have something so important on TV, we can’t even describe how we feel.
Carter agrees and she hopes families will watch and be encouraged to learn more about the culture. “More children will see this and in this way our culture will continue to grow,” she says.