In our second episode of The Freedom to Be video series, we spotlight the Black cowboy community in NYC. Although more prominent in the South, there is a small but longstanding group of Black cowboys in NYC who have migrated from places like Texas, Virginia and Mississippi. Here we feature Dr. George E. Blair—a 90-year-old descendant of the buffalo soldiers—who produced an all-Black cowboy rodeo in Harlem for over 30 years and continues to teach New Yorkers how to ride horses at his New York Riding Academy on Randall’s Island.
The Freedom to Be video series builds on the themes of The Black Experience in NYC, in which NYCgo celebrates unique Black subcultures, communities and affinity groups throughout the five boroughs. The series acknowledges the City’s abundance of vibrant ideas, expressions and cultures. A celebration of the diversity within Black culture in NYC, the Freedom to Be series underscores the contributions of these communities and groups to NYC’s dynamism.
In our first episode, we highlighted the Black surf community in the Rockaways.
My name is Dr. George E. Blair. I’m 90 years old and I’m the oldest Black cowboy in the City of New York.
New York City is the capital of the world, in my mind. We are a small group of Black cowboys in New York City, and we all know and support each other. I began riding horses when my father was a sharecropper. I'm a direct descendant of the buffalo soldiers, and when I saw different movies that depict Afro-Americans as buffalo soldiers and only as enlisted personnel, I decided I was going to change that image.
The Black World Championship Rodeo began out of people constantly telling me that there were no Black cowboys. I decided that we not only would show them Black cowboys, but we would show them doing what Black cowboys did on the range. So I reached out and we identified the best Black cowboys in the whole country, and I brought all these wonderful performers to New York City in Colonel Young’s Park, which is located in Harlem, the Black capital of the world. More than 20,000 people showed up. It became a holiday in Harlem.
We then decided to do that for 30 more years. No one had ever done a full-fledged rodeo, let alone a Black rodeo, in the City of New York.
The New York Riding Academy in Randall’s Island Park is an offshoot of the Black World Championship Rodeo. I would like for people to come visit us here at the center, come see what young people can do. Some of these students have only been with me for two weeks. They’re riding horses by themselves.
When I came to New York City, I was already an established cowboy, but also I went to St. John’s University and earned a PhD. When you combine those things, I think that the possibilities are unlimited. One of our students went to Columbia, became captain of the equestrian team, went on to law school. Last week, she came by to see me and she passed the bar, and she’s going to devote her life to working with people who are without money. I think that’s wonderful.
I choose New York City to do this work and live here because of the buffet of different cultures and different people, and I would like to add something to all those people and cultures who would like to partake.