To this day the romanticised figure of the white cowboy shapes the image of the “Wild West”. Yet, this stereotype had little to do with reality. A quarter of the cowboys were Afro-Americans who played a decisive role in influencing this legendary period of American history. Many were former slaves who later became mounted cowhands or wranglers. However, Hollywood has created a myth that consisted invariably of white heroes. Numerous white “Western heroes” were moulded after African-American cowboys basically erasing their contribution to American history. As a result of this “whitewashing”, hardly anyone today knows of the existence of Black Cowboys.
In recent years, a strong black community has emerged in the USA calling themselves Black Cowboys. They strive for recognition as a part of American history. The modern Black Cowboys hold horses, try to keep the memory alive, but also see themselves as street workers and want to get young black people interested in riding and their own culture. They live in cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta and Charlotte. Others run farms and train hard to participate in rodeos.
We set out and followed the trail of the Black Cowboys. We wanted to capture their heritage and observe its transition into today‘s world; with an additional focus on the role of women and girls in that community. We also documented towns and the land where Black Cowboys worked at the time of the great cattle drives. The “Great Western Trails” led from the south of Texas to Kansas. To this day, numerous murals and saloons recall the time of the Great Western Trails.
The project “Black Cowboys” was supported by Stiftung Kulturwerk der VG Bild-Kunst.
We would like to say a big thank you to all Black Cowboys and Cowgirls we had met and we could photograph and interview for this project.