The Compton Cowboys straighten out the mythical American West – Annenberg Media

Beyoncé opened the 94th Annual Academy Awards with a streaming performance of his song “Be Alive” from the movie King Richard. The performance opened with an overhead view of the two actresses who played Serena and Venus Williams in the film leading a line of black youths through the streets of Compton, one of them riding a horse.

What you might have missed is that these weren’t just any models for Beyoncé’s latest IVY Park collection, it was the Compton Junior Equestriansa subgroup of Compton Cowboys.

Owner Randall Hook, aka Randy Savvy, and his associates ride the streets of Compton with some of their horses displaying the word “Compton” shaved into their coats in the organization’s signature script. This image in your mind may seem foreign to you – detached from the John Waynes and Clint Eastwoods etched into the common representation of the old western cowboy. But many of the first cowboys were black.

The Compton Cowboys directly combat the feeling that black people don’t fit the vision of what a cowboy looks like. Some of their young riders participate in rodeo circuits, some participate in English shows, and others want to manage their own ranch; the group nurtures all these objectives. While highlighting the rich history of black riding, the group establishes a second home for young people in Compton to stay out of trouble and be immersed in a unique and rewarding culture.

In the short documentary “Keiara” directed by Floyd Russ, Keiara Wade, who is part of the “gang” of Compton Cowboys managers, remarks that “when you are truly one with your horse, you can just go on chasing whatever you want.” Connecting black people to a practice that spans centuries does more than “get them off the streets,” but fills the void of generational trauma. After losing his brother to violence and finding a home with the Compton Cowboys, Wade says, “Now I have the strength to walk through this neighborhood in chaos.”

Just as the Compton Cowboys forged a home for Compton’s youth, they did for their horses.

“We want to find horses and take care of them. When we first get the horses, some of them, they starve. But we feed them, welcome them,” the voiceover says. The Compton Cowboys find their strength in the community, a community of humans and horses.

However, the Compton Cowboys would not exist without Mayisha Akbar. After moving her family to Richland Farms, a rural town in Compton, California, she decided to start the Compton Jr. Posse to teach local children how to ride horses as a mentorship mod and to carry on the country spirit. of his ancestors in the southern United States. . Some of those kids started a new group with the same philosophy, and in 2017 the Compton Cowboys were born.

As the cowboy way of life has its roots in Texas since Spanish colonization in the 1500s, the cultural phenomenon only gained popularity in the American narrative in the 19th century – at the same time slaves were gaining virtual freedom. During the Civil War, many slaves had to maintain their owners’ cattle ranches while they were away. Then, after the war was over, many of these cowboys started out as self-employed cattle ranchers; for many, being a cowboy was a way to regain autonomy and agency for their lives through this strenuous line of work. And yet this heritage is largely unknown.

Popular conceptions of history wrote of the existence of black cowboys as well as the Native American cattle ranchers and Mexican vaqueros who taught them. While many historians estimate one in four cowboys were black, Larry Callies, founder of the Black Cowboy Museum in Rosenberg, Texas, thinks there were many more. He tells in his interview with the Guardian that when officials came to take the census, white ranchers “hid about 30 to 40 black cowboys in the woods because they didn’t want to pay taxes.”

Although the Western genre has been popular in literature since the advent of the cattle ranching industry, Western film and television have enshrined the homogeneity of the Wild West within popular culture. Yet this image grossly obscures the prevalence of blacks in the history of the American West. Much firmly believe that the “Lone Ranger” character was inspired by black cowboy Bass Reeves, a 19th-century slave who eventually became a legendary U.S. Marshal once Native American cattle ranchers taught him how to be a horseman. Callies remarks, “they wouldn’t accept it [Bass Reeves] as a black man, so they put a black mask on a white man,” and the Lone Ranger was born.

This erasure of black men and women on horseback aligns with the larger tradition of American history to write the presence and impact of people of color in keeping the spirit of American history alive. The Compton Cowboys, as well as many other programs across the United States, including Urban Cowgirl Ranch (led by rider Brianna Noble, the first documented rider to join the Black Lives Matter protest), strive to improve the visibility of black equestrian culture and increase the discipline’s accessibility for young black people in the middle. urban.

Presenting these young black riders at the Oscars, one of the biggest entertainment ceremonies in the country, not only gives vent to the organization’s goals of being pioneers in the entertainment industry, but also highlights an aspect of black American history that has been largely erased from popular knowledge. And he does it by the very means that erased them.

This revisionist movement to bring the visuals of Black Western culture to the forefront of entertainment is surely taking the industry by storm. Renowned rapper and producer Kendrick Lamar wore metallic patchwork cowboy boots for his surprise appearance at Coachella, complete with a Compton Cowboys logo patch on the right boot. Netflix American Western 2021 “The More They Fall” features an all-black main cast, with the main character being Nat Love, a true black cowboy from the Old West. The Amanda Hunt Exhibition “Black Cowboy” at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, until April 2017, featured photographs by artists like Ron Tarver and Deanna Lawson depicting black cowboys trotting through city streets. These are just a few examples of the broader drive to unravel the narrative that Blacks on Horseback is bizarre and historically incorrect.

Bands like the Compton Cowboys are so important because they take the pulse of an American history that is as black as anything else. Holding their ground in Compton not only made Richland Farms a physical space to empower Compton’s youth, but gave them a sense of strength enhanced by the camaraderie of a 1,000 pound companion.