It’s Day 21 of Black History Month and We Whites Are All Going to STFU and Listen.

Today we all get to STFU and maybe look a little more than listen. This post is about a piece of Black history being reclaimed and revived, and it is also about that revival being beautifully documented by photographer Justin Hardiman.

Okay, quick: what’s the first image that comes to your mind in response to the word cowboy?

For me, it’s some hybrid of Clint Eastwood in one of his Western films, sitting high on a horse with a squint and a snarl, and some white dudes with unkempt facial hair, iconic cowboy hats, and conspicuous holstered guns doing “cowboy things” (I guess?) like sitting around a campfire passing whiskey, riding horses to round up cattle, or small groups of these men on horseback traversing the mountains and deserts of the Western U.S.

For Black photographer Justin Hardiman, a “cowboy” looks a lot more like him.

Photo of Justin Hardiman, wearing white dress shirt, jeans, and tan leather lace-up shoes, seated, against a dark backdrop with large red lettering: "TEDx"Justin Hardiman
Photographer & Cowboy
(image via

Via NPR:

Growing up in Mississippi, Justin Hardiman remembers going to his grandmother’s house and watching his family members ride horses. But it wasn’t until he was 15 that his father took him to his first Black rodeo.

It was eye-opening to see cowboys who looked more like him and less like the white cowboys he was used to seeing on TV. Hardiman knew he was witnessing something special.

It was at the event that Hardiman first saw a future of becoming a rider himself. Today, at age 32, he not only rides at rodeos put on by his uncle but documents them as part of his work as a Mississippi-based photographer.

“I just decided to document [my uncle’s rodeo] because it’s a big part of Mississippi culture and a big part of my childhood and my adulthood now. My uncle has brought [Black rodeo culture] back,” Hardiman says.

Things were very different for Hardiman’s uncle, James Hardiman, who grew up in the segregated South of the 1960s. Black cowboys were banned from rodeo competitions:

“Because of the color of my skin, I was not permitted to participate in the rodeos in my hometown,” says James Hardiman, Justin Hardiman’s uncle.

And here’s the real kicker:

Historically, Black cowboys have been largely forgotten when it comes to pop culture depictions of old-time cowboy culture — think John Wayne or the Marlboro Man. In reality, Black cowboys have always been an important part of cowboy history, as some estimates suggest that as many as 1 in 4 cowboys were Black.

ONE IN FOUR. I’m sure I’ve never seen that kind of representation in any Western film, TV show, advertising campaign, or in any other media during my lifetime.

A digression, if you will permit me:

This is how erasure happens: history is narrated and shaped by the dominant group, which not only centers itself in that narrative but paints itself in the most flattering light.

This is how the human mind works: it is much more difficult to notice that something is absent than to notice what is present. This is true for understandable evolutionary reasons: brains (and not just human ones) sift through streams of sensory input, scanning for the presence of environmental threats, because if they are present the brain must react (or potentially die). An absence rarely ever sets off the brain’s threat assessment/reaction system, because by definition there is no threat to detect. Unless an absence is glaring and/or poses a threat (e.g. “we have no more water”), detecting absences from one’s normal environment is non-intuitive and generally requires conscious effort. It is a skill that can be developed and honed with conscious practice.

This is my theory, anyway, of how erasure happens so effortlessly within a dominant class or culture.</END EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY/NEUROPSYCH GEEK TANGENT>

In 2016, James Hardiman founded the Big Rodeo Project as a way to help give kids the kind of opportunity he was unable to have at an early age.

James Hardiman and his business partner, Dr. Annie Powell, organize two to three rodeos each year in Greenville, Miss. Their goal has been to reconnect their community with Black cowboy culture, while at the same time fostering an inclusive rodeo event that can bring people together regardless of race.

“I think what he’s doing is giving kids that kind of childhood that [I] had growing up. Now [people in our community] can look back and say, ‘I remember when we had that rodeo.’ ”

“You never know where that will take those kids,” says Hardiman. “It’s about the experience.”

You may never know at the time, but Justin Hardiman’s experience has taken him on a photographic journey. And lucky for us, we get to go, too.

2 photos: young Black child sitting on a saddle (on the ground); and young Black in cowboy hat and backpack, looking in the distance and smiling.(image: Justin Hardiman Big Rodeo Project, Greenville, Miss. via NPR)

2 photos: left, a smiling Black woman in a black cowboy hat and fringe suede jacket rides a brown horse in an indoor arena; right, Black men in white hats stand against steel bars. (image: Justin Hardiman Big Rodeo Project, Greenville, Miss. via NPR)

2 photos: left, young Black man (or teen?) sits atop a brown and white horse in a wide outdoor field; right, an elderly man in a cowboy hat sits atop a pale horse standing in front of a photo scrim as if for a portrait.(image: Justin Hardiman Big Rodeo Project, Greenville, Miss. via NPR)

A Black man in a white cowboy hat rides a charging pale horse out of a gate.(image: Justin Hardiman Big Rodeo Project, Greenville, Miss. via NPR)

Black & white photo of four Black men on horses racing around a course in an indoor arena.(image: Justin Hardiman Big Rodeo Project, Greenville, Miss. via NPR)

2 photos: left, sepia tinted photo of two Black men in an outdoor corral, smiling; right, black & white photo of two white men holding white cowboy hats in a horse barn leaning on the metal bars of a corral. (image: Justin Hardiman Big Rodeo Project, Greenville, Miss. via NPR)

2 photos: left, two young Black boys in baseball caps sit atop a brown horse in front of a photo scrim, as if for a portrait; right, the same two young Black boys at a closer view with sky and fence in the nackground.(image: Justin Hardiman Big Rodeo Project, Greenville, Miss. via NPR)

More images from this series are at the NPR link.

But Justin Hardiman’s artistic journey is not all about Black rodeos and cowboys. In 2017, this photo along with a comment he posted online went viral and Buzzfeed News picked up on the, um, buzz.

A Black model in a white mid-length coat stands in, and in front of, a field and backdrop of thick, dark green vines.(image: photo by Justin Hardiman of model Destiny Williams via Buzzfeed)

YMMV of course, but this image is…absolutely stunning. As in, I am dumbstruck, in a state of rapturous, meditative awe.

The Buzzfeed story is about the lengths he went to in order to capture this image, and is well worth a read. It also has images of him, including this one:

Closeup photo of photographer Justin Hardiman wearing a straw hat and holding a professional camera near his head, circa 2017.Justin Hardiman
(image via Buzzfeed, 2017)

Would it be…inappropriate of me to say I feel like I could fall into those eyes and be lost forever? 😬 No? Okay FINE…

Instead, I will be glad and grateful for Justin Hardiman’s gift to all of us of seeing his world through those eyes.

You can follow his work at and on Instagram @kail_soul.

For a deeper dive into the history and culture of Black cowboys pre- and post-Civil War, including some amazing historic photos, see this Smithsonian article The Lesser-Known History of African-American Cowboys.

For a short (2:39) look at professional Black cowboy Cleo Hearns and his “cowboys of color” rodeos in Texas, see this YouTube video.


FYI, here are some other stories I could have written about today:


Mass shooting at Amir Locke protest in Portland leaves 1 dead, 5 injured

An armed homeowner screamed slurs at the protesters, called them terrorists, and later opened fire.

[NOTE: I am following this story. It is still breaking news and details are few, with the narrative being shaped almost exclusively by Portland police. (You can read Crip Dyke’s outstanding reporting from the George Floyd protests in Portland to see how accurate Portland police narratives tend to be…) There is, so far, the troubling fact that as of this writing there is no confirmation of any arrest of the “armed homeowner,” only evasive and defensive language from the police.]


Bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor becomes most decorated Black athlete in Winter Olympics history

“Hopefully it just encourages more and more black athletes to come out to winter sports and not just black athletes, winter sports for everybody.”


Proposed Florida bridge poses threat to historic Black community

An 80-foot-tall bridge over the New River would “crush the life” out of redevelopment efforts in the city’s historic Sistrunk community, Fort Lauderdale’s mayor said.
Day 1 of Black History Month 2022 (Lori Teresa Yearwood) is here.
Day 2 (Mallence Bart-Williams) is here.
Day 3 (Emmett Till) is here.
Day 4 (A Tale of Two Citizens) is here.
Day 5 (Trayvon Martin) is here.
Day 6 (Franchesca Ramsey) is here.
Day 7 (National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and the Black Aids Institute) is here.
Day 8 (extreme racial disparities in marijuana arrests) is here.
Day 9 (Summer of Soul/1969 Harlem Cultural Festival) is here.
Day 10 (current and historic racist domestic terrorism, Steve Phillips/Democracy in Color) is here.
Day 11 (Gee’s Bend Quilters) is here.
Day 12 (egregious anti-Black (& anti LGBTQ+) behavior at a NY State high school is here.
Day 13 (Erin Jackson, 1st Black woman to win Olympic gold medal in speedskating) is here.
Day 14 (Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions) is here.
Day 15 (racial inequities in spiking vehicle death rates during the pandemic compound and are compounded by other racial inequities, and The New York Times buries the lede) is here.
Day 16 (criminalizing protest/Color of Change) is here.
Day 17 (Flo Kennedy) is here.
Day 18 (3 news stories on the same day regarding police killings of Black people) is here.
Day 19 (Andrew Joseph III/qualified immunity) is here.
Day 20 (Dr. Catherine L. Pugh/”There Is No Such Thing As A White Ally”) is here.


  1. L.Long says

    History is a tricky thing because of bigoted erasure! How many think Richard III of England was a hunch-back that murdered his cousins??? All thanks to Shakespeare and the Queen of that time Lying. But when it comes to plays,movies & TV, historical is not important compared to keeping the money coming in.