“As African-Americans, we didn’t see cowboys when we were growing up,” Sandra Myers recalls. She and her husband, Mark, live in Rembert, S.C.
Now they’re about to host hundreds of them next weekend at the Black Cowboy Festival. The four-day event (it begins Thursday) has demonstrations (everything from smithing to cooking), line dancing, rodeos, riding competitions and more.
The site is Greenfield Farm, east of Columbia in rural Sumter County, which the couple owns. Their 60-acre hay and horse operation, which they bought in 1991, has proven a great location to showcase their passions for both black history and cowboy heritage.
Their spread on Spencer Road was part of the old Spencer plantation, which some of Sandra’s ancestors worked as slaves. Mark’s family is from Savannah, Ga.; one of his great-great-great-grandfathers, George Washington Myers, was a Buffalo Soldier.
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There were quite a number of African-Americans in the Old West – ranchers, drovers and more. Most famous were the Buffalo Soldiers: four black cavalry regiments that from 1865 to 1918 patrolled the frontier. The troopers included 22 who won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The Black Cowboy Festival began in 1996 as a fundraiser for a local church; now it attracts 3,000 to 4,000 attendees from across the country. The equestrian events – from barrel racing to relays – each feature 25 to 30 participants; about 100 horses are involved during the festival.
Also tied-in is their granddaughter, Zyarriah Myers, a 13-year-old barrel racer who learned to ride at age 3. (Sandra says her own horseback days ended eight years ago after knee problems. But she still drives the buggy.)
A history-oriented highlight Thursday will be dramatic presentations by Carolyn Evans, a Harriet Tubman re-enactor who channels the woman who played a key role in the pre-Civil War “Underground Railroad” – and who is slated to be on the $20 bill.
$20 is also the cost of adult admission next Saturday – with all-day horse shows and rodeo events starting at 9:30 a.m.
Sandra points out that an all-cowpoke agenda only goes so far – scheduled entertainment includes blues, jazz and gospel – and that the Black Cowboy Festival isn’t just for African-Americans: Everybody’s welcome at this rare occasion.
How rare? Well, you’d have to hit the Texas trail to Will Rogers Coliseum, in Fort Worth, in January if you want see the Cowboys of Color Stock Show & Rodeo. Or, come October, mosey up to rootin’-tootin’ Queens, N.Y., for the Federation of Black Cowboys rodeo.
John Bordsen: 704-358-5251
Want to go?
The Black Cowboy Festival is May 5-8 at Greenfield Farm, 4585 Spencer Road, Rembert, S.C. From Charlotte, it’s a little under two hours, mostly via I-77 South. Saturday admission is $20; $8 for 12 and younger. Free admission on other days. Some dinners and musical shows are $10. Details/schedule: www.BlackCowboyFestival.net. Also: Search for “Black Cowboy Festival” at www.facebook.com.