Juneteenth Rodeo

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Timeless photos offer a rare portrait of the jubilant, vibrant, vital, nearly hidden, and now all-but-vanished world of small-town Black rodeos.

Long before Americans began to officially commemorate Juneteenth, in the heat of East Texas, saddles were being cinched, buckles shined, and lassoes adjusted for a day on the Black rodeo circuit in honor of the holiday. In the late 1970s, as they had been doing for generations, Black communities across the region held local rodeos for the talented cowboys and cowgirls who were segregated from the mainstream circuit. It was to these vibrant community events that bestselling Texas writer Sarah Bird, then a young photojournalist, found herself drawn.

In Juneteenth Rodeo, Bird's lens celebrates a world that was undervalued at the time, capturing everything, from the moment the pit master fired up his smoker, through the death-defying rides, to the last celebratory dance at a nearby honky-tonk. Essays by Bird and sports historian Demetrius Pearson reclaim the crucial role of Black Americans in the Western US and show modern rodeo riders--who still compete on today's circuit--as "descendants" in a more than two-hundred-year lineage of Black cowboys. A gorgeous tribute to the ropers and riders--legends like Willie Thomas, Myrtis Dightman, Rufus Green, Bailey's Prairie Kid, Archie Wycoff, and Calvin Greeley--as well as the secretaries, judges, and pick-up men and even the audience members who were as much family as fans, Juneteenth Rodeo ultimately seeks to put Black cowboys and cowgirls where they have always belonged: in the center of the frame.


Sarah Bird
University of Texas Press
Publication Date:
June 04, 2024

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