Thursday, February 27, 2014

Black History Month 2014 at the American Library in Paris: Reimagining Blacks in the American West

The Body Guard of Yosemite
Yosemite National Park File Photo

Almost a year ago, Naida Culshaw, former External Relations Manager at the American Library in Paris, contacted me to ask if I'd brainstorm ideas for the 2014 Black History Month exposition at the Library. The movie Django Unchained had recently been released and Naida was intrigued by a BBC article by Sarfraz Manzoor entitled "America's Forgotten Black Cowboys." She told me that she was thinking about mounting an exhibit about black cowboys and because she knew that I am from Houston, Texas, she wondered if I could help her with possible sources of information on the topic. I could not refuse.

"Go Texan" Day and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo are an indelible part of my memories of growing up. My brother, Malcolm Wells, and his best friend, Ed Williams, work the rodeo every year. Ed also participates in trail rides prior to the annual Livestock Show and Rodeo. Could I help with sources of information? YES!

Ed uncovered two gems for us - Captain Paul Matthews, who is at the helm of the Buffalo Soldier Museum, and Mollie Stevenson, Jr., current owner of the Taylor-Stevenson Ranch and the American Cowboy Museum. Both sites are in Houston and I visited them during my annual trip home.

To make a long story short...

When Naida and I sat down over lunch to discuss what I had discovered during my visit home, it became quickly apparent that the subject of Blacks in the American West went far deeper than Naida's original concept for the exposition. In addition to black men, there were also black women who played an important role in settling the American West. There were not only cowboys, but also fur trappers, Pony Express riders, and soldiers. What's more, the black cowboy and cowgirl are an integral part of contemporary life in the American West.

Naida, who is a brilliant and passionate researcher, went to work on all of this information. The current exhibit at the American Library - Reimagining Blacks in the American West - is the result.

Reimagining Blacks in the American West exposition
© Discover Paris!

On February 19th, Naida delivered a talk during which she presented facts and anecdotes about much of what is displayed in the library's exhibit case. She then invited participants to the back of the room and responded to questions about the many colorful people and stories that she shared during the presentation.

Black Women of the Old West
© Discover Paris!

Mollie Stevenson, Jr. and the Taylor-Stevenson Ranch
© Discover Paris!

Black Cowboys of the West
© Discover Paris!

Nat Love, a. k. a. Deadwood Dick
© Discover Paris!

Cheryl Ann Bolden, educator and curator of Precious Cargo and one of the African Americans featured in Black Paris Profiles, catered the event with mild and spicy chicken wings and cornbread.

An exceptional event is programmed at the Library on March 8th at 2 PM, when Captain Matthews will deliver a presentation on the history and achievements of the African American military experience from the Revolutionary War to present day conflicts. Particular attention will be given to the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers, who were originally members of the U.S. 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army formed in 1866.

The "Buffalo Soldiers" of the 24th Infantry on patrol in Yosemite National Park, 1899.
Source: Yosemite Research Library

For more information and to sign up for the presentation, click here. SEATING IS LIMITED!

The Reimagining Blacks in the American West exhibit will be on view through March 16, 2014.

American Library in Paris
10, rue du Général Camou
75007 Paris
Telephone: 01 53 59 12 60
Metro: Ecole Militaire (line 8), Alma-Marceau (line 9)
RER: Pont de l'Alma (line C)


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