NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A local jazz singer and composer is using music and theater to share the story of black cowboys.
The musical Cross That River is about an escaped slave who becomes a cowboy in 1865. Allan Harris created the show and plays the lead character, “Blue.” Harris grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and has always loved riding horses. As a kid he attended Catholic school and remembers being admonished by a nun when he wrote an essay about riding horses on his grandfather’s ranch.
“‘It’s not nice to tell fibs, you know. The Lord doesn’t like you to tell fibs, Allan,'” Harris said, remembering the conversation. “I said, ‘What do you mean?'”
“‘As you know, there’s no such thing as black cowboys,'” he said he was told.
CONTINUING COVERAGE: Black History Month
Not true. These days you’ll see black cowboys in rodeos and there’s a rich history of black cowboys even before the Civil War and after. They rode along with white cowboys to get cattle and buffalo to the North and South, which was depleted of meat. Harris said white trail bosses only cared about getting the work done.
“He didn’t believe in that prejudice stuff. He believed in one thing: If you rope, ride, and stayed in that saddle for 90 days, and get my cattle to market then we won’t deal with the color situation,” Harris said.
Harris wants all kids to know their history, so he spends a lot of time with children, making sure they learn what’s often left out of history books and movies.
“It’s trying to empower children — not just of color, disenfranchised children — that there is something more than just being the history of slavery or porters or cooks,” Harris said. “We helped build this nation and we were cowboys.”
And they were a huge part of building the American dream.
Cross That River will be performed Friday and Saturday at Faison Firehouse Theater in Harlem.