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The History Of The Black Cowboy Endures On South Side Of Chicago

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Many things come to mind when people think of Chicago, but what about cowboys? More specifically, Black cowboys.

CBS 2's Jermont Terry shares their heritage and the push to get more people to mount up.

Horse riding goes back centuries. Yet, as Neffer Oduntunde Kerr saddles up, she's simply doing what's in her DNA.

"I do have linage of cowboys in my family. My grandfather was a Black cowboy," said Kerr, a member of the Broken Arrow Riding Club.

Grainy black and white images show her granddad, cowboy Carroll Martin Kerr, Sr., siting on one of his eight horses many decades ago.

"And that's where I got my love for this from," she said.

It is a heritage deeply rooted not only in Kerr's family, but Black history.

"The original cowboys were Black men in America, and the reason they were called cowboys were because they weren't referred to as men. They were the cow hands."

When one thinks of Chicago, they probably don't think "cowboy."

Since 1989, "Murdock," the Broken Arrow president, has been working to change that narrative.

"The identity of the Black cowboy is pretty much working on a ranch, learning how to ride a horse, competing in various competitions."

In fact, over the course of U.S. history, one in five of the estimated 50,000 cowboys was Black, and not just ones at rodeos; they were working cowboys.

"This part of history is just not talked about," said Charles Perry, who has worked on a documentary entitled, "The Black Cowboy," for seven years.

"I named it The Black Cowboy to let people know Black people existed in the West."

And not only out West, but here is Chicago, too.

"There's a strong Black cowboy community here; more than people would think," Perry said.

While tracing the American Black cowboy roots, the film lassoes the Chicago connection.

"The way Blacks got to Oklahoma and the way Blacks got to even Chicago is all connected to cattle and the horse culture," Perry said.

It is a culture that Perry believes Broken Arrow maintains today.

"I see broken arrow, what Murdock is doing and other Black cowboys in Chicago as a part of living history now."

On Juneteenth 2020, the Black cowboys trotted down Martin Luther King Drive in Bronzeville.

"We try to instill in other people positive and peace and bring community activities for children," Murdock said.

It's one reason Broken Arrow is featured in the documentary.

"I talked to Murdock and he gave me his business plan of building a horse facility here in Chicago for the inner city kids of Chicago," Perry said.

Says Murdock: "Where other youths can learn like I did when I was a youth and that's been my passion."

Yet Broken Arrow has hit many roadblocks on opening a stable in Washington Park. The group has a GoFund Me page to help raise funds for the project. 

"We have to look at what's good for our children and not the adults," Murdock said. "Why be so hard on something that may take some of these kids off the streets from getting shot."

And while the cowboy's mission centers around horses -- much like how Neffer Oduntunde Kerr followed her grandfather's legacy -- there's renewed hope for future riders.

Kerr believes there are potential Black cowboys or cowgirls sitting all over Chicago right now.

"It's so many of them, and the thing is they don't know," said Kerr.

"The Black Cowboy" documentary will be screened at Chatham Cinema on Feb. 26. Click here for more details. 



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