The New Black West: Start this Book and You'll Say, "Yippee Kay-O, Kay-YAAY!!"

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Image courtesy of Chronicle Books
Image courtesy of Chronicle Books

� 2022 Chronicle Books
128 pages

A hundred and sixty years ago, "more than eight thousand Black cowboys rode in the western cattle drives." They did everything that every other ranch hand and cowboy did back then, but "their stories have largely been untold."

In 1984, a promoter named Lu Vason realized that "the granddaddy of them all," the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo, was lacking Black cowpokes. Upon returning to his home in Denver, he began researching and raising funds to start the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, named after the legendary cowboy from the turn of the last century, who was the first Black person inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame. Now held on the second weekend in July in Oakland, California, it is the only touring Black rodeo in America to this day.

But it's not all ropin' and ridin'.

The rodeo is a chance to show off horse, saddle, boots, and bling, since you want to be "dressed to impress" if you're in the parade. It's also a great excuse to spend a day with horses, and to share that love with rodeo watchers who want to learn, too. It's a challenge, and a way to honor those who've accepted that challenge in the past. It's a way to "change the headlines." And the rodeo is family. (The deep tradition of riding horses and roping calves, says Hasbun, is also passed on to youth in trouble through participating stables and organizations.)

For many readers, The New Black West may be like no other book you've had.

There is not, first of all, much to actually read here. Author and photographer Gabriela Hasbun instead offers a nice "artist's statement" in which she explains African American cowboys in history and the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo's beginnings, and she writes short captions for the photos in this book, but that's about all there is to read.

In that sense, Hasbun lets the illustrations speak for themselves.

Browse through this book and meet men and women who are grateful for the horse that turned their lives around. Look at the gorgeous, parade-worthy clothing, the custom-made (designer!) saddles, and the (literal) snakeskin boots.

Then don't be at all surprised if you find yourself looking for tickets, so you can see those things up-close and in person this summer.

The New Black West is a book you'll page through again and again, and never get tired of doing so. It's one you can share with the kids and maybe inspire them.