African American cowboys and cowgirls ride into the spotlight at annual Jackson Black Rodeo

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

A cowgirl makes her way to the rodeo grounds before the start to the 17th Annual Jackson Black Rodeo at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson, Miss., Saturday July 13, 2019.

Frank Penny Edwards had a vision of creating a family oriented event that educated people on African American cowboys, their history and accomplishments. 

In 2002, Frank created the Jackson Black Rodeo with his son, Jarriett, by his side. They started by conducting detailed research and visiting other African American rodeos, such as the Cowboys of Color in Dallas. Frank and Jarriett would also compete in several rodeo competitions before settling on the idea of the Jackson Black Rodeo.

After Frank died earlier this year, in April, Jarriett kept his father’s legacy alive by carrying on the tradition. “I want to maintain the integrity of my father’s dedication to provide entertainment for a family oriented event,” Jarriett said. “I also want to continue the relationships with supporters that my father built, who helped make the event what it is today.”

Once erased from popular depictions of the Wild West, the historic role of African American cowboys in rural life has drawn renewed interest in recent years. Billboard’s exclusion of Lil Nas X’s song “Old Town Road” from the country charts, sparked a backlash and, ultimately, helped catapult the country rap song about horses, riding and cowboy boots to triple platinum. Closer to home, photographer Rory Doyle has garnered international acclaim for his “Delta Hill Riders” project featuring portraits of black cowgirls and boys of Mississippi.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, the Mississippi Coliseum was filled with more than 500 participating cowboys and cowgirls in the sold out 17th Annual Jackson Black Rodeo.

Fans cheered as cowboys roped steer and calves, barrel-raced and saddle-rode bucking broncs. Competitors traveled from different parts of Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee to be a part of history.

Audience members left the event with excitement in their eyes and a newly gained knowledge of black history that is not often discussed. The tradition will continue with the 18th Annual Black Rodeo on July 11, 2020.

Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

A cowgirl takes her son on a horse ride before participants entered the rodeo grounds at the Mississippi Coliseum for the 17th Annual Jackson Black Rodeo.


Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Larry Hutchins, of Natchez, brushes his horse outside of the Mississippi Coliseum before the 17th Annual Jackson Black Rodeo.

Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Blake Thompson, 11, is photographed at the 17thAnnual Black Rodeo in Jackson, Miss., Saturday, July 13, 2019.