Black Heritage Day Seeks to Reach Out & Connect African-Americans to Western Heritage
HOUSTON- Since the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was established 80 years ago, it has made an impact on the livestock and entertainment industries and in the sport of rodeo.
It also has played a notable role in enhancing the lives of thousands of young people in the state of Texas.
One of those great events of the rodeo is the annual Black Heritage Day at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
In 2017, Black Heritage Day at the HLSR is March 10 at 6:30 p.m. and features a performance by Award-winning celebrity, talent artist and singing sensation Alicia Keys.
However, It is much more and has far deeper roots and meaning that one day and the appearance of a highly touted Black celebrity.
It is a day that enables the rodeo to reach out and communicate with one of its largest audiences – African Americans.
None of the current gains could have been possible without the efforts of the Black Heritage Committee.
The special day has grown in notoriety only because of the hard work and persistence of the now Black Heritage Committee.
The Black Heritage Committee (BHC) was established as an official Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo committee in 1993 under the name Black Go Texan Committee (BGTC).
It was the BGTC that was originally established to promote the show to Houston’s African-American community and to serve as and educational resource for the community.
Since its founding with 35 original members, the committee has increased to 170 members under the current leadership of Chairman Dr. Terence H. Fontaine.
“This mission of the Black Heritage Committee is to promote the show in the African American community,” Fontaine said recently. “We also highlight the pioneer spirit and western heritage not only raising awareness of our past, but giving hope to our future by raising scholarship funds for urban youth.”
According to Fontaine, the BHC has continued its storied tradition of being leaders at the rodeo regarding community outreach.
The committee also has thrived and had solid Lone Star leadership under past chairmans, namely Howard Middleton Jr; Ernie B. Collins; Warner Ervin Sr., Ozell Price, Naomi Hines, Alex Prince, and Donald W. Middleton.
According to historical records, the purpose of the group was to promote and demonstrate ways for family to share in family -like relationships, work together while doing what they enjoy doing.
Former Chairman Price explained it best, once remarking about reasons why the committee was important, stating, “It was “not for fame or glory, but for all the youngsters.”
Black Cowboy History
According to the Texas State Historical Association, Black cowboys have been part of Texas history since the early nineteenth century, when they first worked on ranches throughout the state.
The word cowboy refers to the men who drove herds of cattle from ranchland in Texas over hundreds of miles of rough and dangerous terrain to the stockyards in the north.
Many Black Cowboys have been idealized in motion pictures, television, and books, but the Black Heritage Committee see to take it a step further.
The TSHA reports that many of the first black cowboys were born into slavery, but later found a better life on the open range, where they experienced less open discrimination than in the city.
After the Civil War, many were employed as horse breakers and for other tasks, but few of them became ranch foremen or managers.
Some black cowboys took up careers as rodeo performers or were hired as federal peace officers in Indian Territory. Others ultimately owned their own farms and ranches, while a few who followed the lure of the Wild West became gunfighters and outlaws.
Black cowboys have continued to work in the ranching industry throughout the twentieth century, and African Americans who inherited family-owned ranches have attempted to bring public recognition to the contributions of their ancestors.
Promoting African-American Western Culture
The overall goal has been the same and even today seeks to promote the welfare of African-American children by promoting show and preserving and highlighting the pioneer and Western Heritage of Black individuals in Houston and throughout the state.
By promoting the integral role of the Black Cowboy in helping tame the Old West, the BHC hopes the African American community will develop a greater appreciation for its Western heritage.
It is committed to educating people about all the significant contributions made by African-Americans in settling the West, such as the world renowned Buffalo Soldiers, and acknowledging the role played by Black Cowboys and settlers.
Education is job one of the BHC as the committee works tirelessly on opportunities to raise funds and help at-risk and disadvantages youth.
When not involved in fundraising, the volunteers reach out directly as mentors and helping hands giving of themselves and time to help youth in need.
Much of their fundraising efforts are returned to the community in the form of Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo awarded scholarships.
The focus is to promote the show in public and private high schools throughout the Houston Metropolitan Area and use that community outreach and involvement to help raise funds to help provide thousands of dollars in scholarship for Texas youth seeking higher education.
One of its grand contributions to helping youth is its annual premier event – The Black Heritage Western Gala.
It is in its 24th-year and draws thousands each year raising tens of thousands for scholarships for urban youth. The gala is popular and known for showcasing the committees work and recognizing the contributions of Black Cowboys, landowners and others who have contributed to the betterment of the community.
This year’s theme focused on “Honoring Excellence and Integrity through Black Media” and featured the contributions Houston’s Black newspapers that not only report news, but also records and preserves the history and culture of the African-American community.
Each newspaper was recognized and honored for their contributions in the communities they serve and received the Verna Lee Hightower Award for Greatness for partnering with the BHC and having that positive impact on the community using their publications.
Since the first gala, funds from the event has grown five-fold and all proceeds benefit the show and draws more than 1,000 guests and commemorates Western Heritage and Glitz.
Fontaine said the efforts of the BHC will continue to be to keep it focus on promoting education of the western history and heritage and contributions of African-Americans to it in front of the community for generations to come.
“The BHC invites all to bring family and friends to join us for a fun-filled day of activities on Friday, March 10,” Fontaine said. “We also invite you to join and work with us to make our community a better place for all.”
By: Darwin Campbell