Striking Photos Go Inside America's Only Touring Black Rodeo Competition

Blackness is no stranger to cowboy culture.
A cowgirl participates in the barrel race competition.
A cowgirl participates in the barrel race competition.
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Hundreds of black cowboys and cowgirls convened in Memphis, Tennessee, last weekend to compete at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.

The rodeo, which labels itself “The Greatest Show on Dirt,” is recognized as America’s only touring black rodeo competition. It seeks to dismantle the whitewashed history of the Western frontier by highlighting black people’s involvement in and contributions to cowboy culture, as well as educate the public about black Western heritage.

Named after the legendary cowboy Bill Pickett, the rodeo was first held in Denver in 1984. It was created by Lu Vason, a promoter and producer who was interested in forming an all-black rodeo after he noticed the lack of racial representation at other rodeos in the West. Vason, who died in 2015, helped to build BPIR alongside his wife, Valeria Howard-Vason, who serves as the organization’s current president and, for the last 33 years, has helped to host rodeo shows in cities across the country.

On Saturday, BPIR’s event in Memphis attracted hundreds of cowboys and cowgirls of color, along with their families and fans, for an evening filled with competitive bull-riding, barrel racing and much more. Here are some pictures from the evening and Friday’s children’s event that highlight some of the best moments and reaffirm that blackness is no stranger to cowboy culture:

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Chase Crain participates in the bull doggin competition at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo on April 1, 2017, in Memphis, Tennessee. The Bill Pickett Rodeo is the nation's only touring black rodeo competition.
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Jamil Hunt shares a saddle with his 6-year-old son Jamil Hunt Jr. as they prepare to ride into the arena for the start of competition.
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Carolyn Carter carries the American flag as contestants parade through the arena.
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Bubba Eacholes sits on his horse before the start of competition.
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Contestants watch the competition at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo on March 31, 2017, in Memphis, Tennessee.
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The rodeo's logo is engraved in a competitor's saddle.
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Xavier Carter participates in the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo on March 31, 2017, in Memphis, Tennessee.
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Avery Ford, a rodeo clown who performs as Spanky, uses his truck mirror to apply his makeup.
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Bullfighter Teaspoon Mitchell says a prayer before the start of the bull riding competition.
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Harrel Williams Jr. competes in the junior barrel racing event.
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Cowboys relax at a late-night barbeque following a day of competition.
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Participants leave the arena following a day of competition.
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Danesha Henderson participates in the barrel race competition.
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Denard Hunt grooms his horse.
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Competitors wait for their turn to compete.
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Schoolchildren watch the competition.
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Bull rider Anthony Monts Jr. stretches before his ride.
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Eighteen-year-old Anissa Platt from Plant City, Florida, visits with her horse after competing in the barrel racing event.
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Bernard Daniels walks with his grandson Zion Williams.
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