Black in the Saddle: The Best Bull Rider You Never Saw

Article excerpt

For more than half of the 20th century African Americans were denied access and opportunities to fully participate in American society. This social disenfranchisement operated at all aspects of society, including work and play. American rodeo, whose origins can be traced to festival pastimes in Mexico, evolved into a quasisport form in the United States during the late 19th century. This work-related sport form, and its subculture, incorporated the social and cultural norms of American society. As a result, even though African Americans were inextricably involved in the cattle industry, rodeo, and "the West," American history and sport have frequently marginalized, misrepresented, or omitted their contributions. Like baseball, and other contemporary sports prior to integration in the late 1940s, rodeo was participated in and influenced by minority athletes whose legacy has been largely overlooked. This study was designed to collect data and chronicle the personal and professional rodeo experiences of Willie Thomas, arguably the best bull rider in the history of the sport, and one of the first African American rodeo cowboys to compete in the prestigious Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. A narrative "complimentary" research design (Creswell, 2005; Fraenkel & Wallen, 1996) consisting of qualitative (in-depth interviews and observational activities) and archival research (historical documents and personal artifact reviews) methodologies was used. …