Black cowboys, both real and "reel," gathered last weekend at the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage for the Reel Black Cowboy Film Festival, a celebration of their role in film history.
We've been seeing these guys on the screen for years, although we probably wouldn't know their names. Some, like Herb Jeffries and the late Woody Strode, have become legends. But there's a whole passel of them in Tinseltown--there's always another varmint to chase or another range war to wage on screen, so they're rarely out of work.
Guys like Reginald T. Dorsey, Tony Brubaker, Obba Babatunde, Glynn Turman, Tom Lockhart, Bob Minor, Jim Brooks and cowgirl April Weeden-Washington have been in the saddle since childhood.
Dorsey and Mayme Clayton, a former UCLA librarian who specialized in black history, organized the three-day event to help fund Clayton's Western States Black Research Educational Center, which doesn't have a permanent home.
(Jo-Ann and Glynn Turman, who have opened their Lake Hughes ranch for one week every August to 140 inner-city kids, were accepting donations for that endeavor as well.)
For the past 40 years, Clayton has collected more than 500 African American films dating to the 1920s.
Dorsey, a star of "Return to Lonesome Dove" and Oliver Stone's "South Central," said Clayton asked him to help her create the festival, which is in its second year. "Black cowboys are often underrated," said Dorsey. "They're part of American history too."
Jo-Ann Turman whomped up a jambalaya supper before the 200-plus guests viewed a film tribute. During the weekend, a number of films were screened, including "Sgt. Rutledge" (1960) and "Buck & the Preacher" (1972). There was also an exhibit by former cowboy Clyde Williams, a western artist.
"My grandfather had me herding cattle as a kid," Williams said. "I understand the cowboy and the body of the horse. I started sketching them when I was 6. It's a passion. That's why I'll always be a cowboy in my heart."