Arts and Culture

Black Cowboys Take Over Gilcrease Museum

The Chisholm Kid: Lone Fighter for Justice for All & Concert with Dom Flemons

By Casey McLerran, literary editor 

Tulsa, OK- The Gilcrease Museum, located at 1400 N Gilcrease Museum Rd, is hosting an exhibition of The Chisholm Kid: Lone Fighter for Justice for All curated by the Museum of UnCut Funk. This exhibition includes comic strips from the museum’s archives, the estate of the publisher, and the University of Michigan Special Collections Library.

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During the 1950s, American’s hero was the cowboy of the wild west. Estimates historically reflect that 25-percent of America’s cowboys were African Americans. T.V. and comic book cowboys were depicted as overwhelmingly white, which made the Chisholm Kid a radical departure as a weekly newspaper comic strip featuring a Black cowboy fighting for justice for all in the wild west.

The narrative of the harrowing excitement taking place in the wild west and ‘Indian Territory’ began in the latter part of the 1800’s as an advertising tool encouraging the population of the continent west of the Mississippi through action-packed stories of the lawless expanse of land and opportunity waiting for an America willing to tame it.

This nostalgia for the open west was revitalized in modern media of the 1950’s as most of America was consolidating into suburban living. Music, television, and Sunday comics opined for past and expanded on the notion of the everyday hero as a roaming cowboy.

The Chisholm Kid’s opening panels detail the murder of a reporter that leads into a broader struggle for the freedom of the press in the face of oppression. As a black all-American hero, the Chisholm Kid allowed black and white viewers to envision the black experience as intertwined with our collective history while also giving a black protagonist a mainstream platform as a weekly comic.

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The history of the black cowboy is particularly relevant in Oklahoma, once known as  Indian Territory, that was between the cattle ranches in Texas and the trail heads that met with railroads in Kansas and Missouri.

As a very physically difficult position that offered little pay and required a great deal of skill, former slaves would often find employment as cowhands. Oklahoma’s history of black townships and native freedmen, as well as location, deepens our connection to the figure of a black cowboy such as the Chisholm Kid.

Curator of History Mark Dolph said, “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’s [the Chisholm Kid] the original superhero of popular black culture” as we were speaking of the power of imagery in mass media.

“…your ceiling of what you can become is elevated” when you have a hero that looks like you.

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The exhibition features panels of the comic strip along with a few pieces of Gilcrease’s own collection that adds to the historical context and features music from Sonny Rollins’ “Way Out West” album, a modern jazz classic inspired by western nostalgia, released in the 1957. The album cover shows Brooklyn born Rollins dressed as a cowboy in a western landscape, toting a saxophone rather than a rifle.

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While The Chisholm Kid: Lone Fighter for Justice for All  exhibition runs through March 17, 2019 this Wednesday Grammy Award winning Dom Flemons, the nationally acclaimed “American Songster”, will be performing his repertoire of music covering nearly 100 years of American folklore, ballads and tunes.

Dom Flemons Black Cowboys

According to a press release from Gilcrease Museum:

“Flemons has been a professional touring musician for the past 10 years and has traveled around the nation and the world presenting traditional folk and roots music to diverse audiences. Flemons has performed as a soloist at prestigious venues, such as Carnegie Hall, Cecil Sharp House, the Grand Ole Opry, the Opening Ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Newport Folk Festival and represented the United States at the 2017 Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Malaysia.

In 2005, Flemons co-founded the Carolina Chocolate Drops who won a GRAMMY for Best Traditional Folk in 2010. He left the group to pursue his solo career in 2014. In 2016, the Carolina Chocolate Drops were inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame and are featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.”

The pairing of Dom Flemons and The Chisholm Kid promises to be a deeply entertaining and intellectual examination of the past, present, and future of America’s black cowboy.

Tickets and details for the January, Wednesday 30th Dom Flemons concert can be found here.


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Literary Editor

Casey McLerran is the Literary Editor at the Black Wall Street Times. She is a Sooner State transplant from Forest Hills, NY. McLerran arrived in Oklahoma at the age of three shortly after gentrification displaced her and her family out of their home in New York. At first glance, many think they have McLerran figured out. To be frank, she’s a biracial American young woman that unapologetically embraces her half-African identity — a feminist-womanist she is. Her pen operates as her voice as well as her sword. Her accolades include the 2018 Rural Oklahoma Poetry Museum’s Oklahoma Poem Award, a business management degree, and her three beautiful children. Her objective with the Black Wall Street Times is to elevate and amplify the literary art of modern black American culture, pay tribute to African-American literary trailblazers, all while simultaneously linking and introducing children to the world of colorful American writers. 

 

 

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