Cleo Hearn has been a professional cowboy since 1959. He lives and breathes it. His 4 boys live and breathe it. Even his granddaughter has taken up the family crest. As a black cowboy, the road has not been easy.
In a video produced by Great Big Story, the 76-year old Hearn talks about the challenges he faces as a black man in a world most people think is dominated by white men. “People would see me at a rodeo and because I was a different color, thought I was working for somebody,” says Hearn.
He got his big start in calf roping, in part to not be judged unfairly by racist judges. “I had seen a lot of black cowboys judged improperly, but with calf roping, I knew that I wasn’t going to be judged by a human, I was going to be judged by a clock,” says Hearn. “A clock was going to determine whether I get any money or not.”
Now, Hearn puts on the Cowboys of Color Rodeo across Texas and beyond — rodeos that celebrate the heritage of all cowboys, including black, Native American, Hispanic and white. “Black cowboys in the history books are damn near forgotten,” says Hearn. “Very many people don’t even realize that New Mexico was discovered by a black man, Chicago was founded by a black man; I don’t care what color you are, these are the things we want young people to know.”
Check out some of Hearn’s story below, and learn more about Cowboys of Color Rodeo at its official website.