Not everyone knows that the word “cowboy” originated in slavery as a slave job description similar to “house boy” and “field boy.”
Free blacks headed west and worked with horses, even teaching their white counterparts what they knew about working with animals from the plantations, said Warren Small, a charter member of the Federation of Black Cowboys based in the Howard Beach neighborhood in Queens.
“We married into the [American Indian] tribes and they harbored us from slavery,” Small said.
Small and his group of urban cowboys visited the Juneteenth celebration in Central Park on Saturday to educate about a part of their heritage many may not realize — blacks who helped settle the West.
And the Federation of Black Cowboys brought six horses for people to admire and pet.
Donald McClain, 8, and Ahmer Daughtry, 11, watched a paint horse at the park entrance. Both have ridden horses and like them, they said.
“We didn’t even really know what was going on,” said Lynne Patrick of Schenectady, Donald’s grandma and Ahmer’s aunt. She just brought the boys to Central Park for the afternoon and stumbled onto the Juneteenth festival.
Early Saturday afternoon, about 200 people listened to music groups play in Music Haven and meandered through the vendors area. Miki Conn, executive director of Hamilton Hill Arts Center, which organized the three-day event, said more people usually show up later.
The event celebrating the end of slavery continues today with live music, food, a chess master, a basketball shooting contest and an art show.
This year’s event has more vendors than last year but less space because of the new playground being built in the park, Conn said.
“But I think in a way it’s good for the vendors,” she said. “People kind of see more and stop more.”
The horses weren’t fazed by the thumping music coming from Music Haven. The equines regularly walk down the streets of New York City, said Eric Jackson, whose cowboy handle is “Little Red,” and who is the federation’s event coordinator.
“You have to have them adapted to whatever environment you’re in,” Jackson said.
The federation leases 26 acres from the city and keeps members’ horses and boarders there. It has 27 active members.
“A lot of people wanted us for Juneteenth,” Jackson said, but the group has a tradition of coming to Schenectady for the event.
Members want to inspire young blacks to work with horses. Small, whose handle is “Black Red,” remembers being inspired by a mounted police officer as a young boy living in Harlem.
“He said, ‘Son, would you like to sit on my horse?’”
The Queens resident retired as a state court clerk and now spends his days caring for his horses.
“I’m in cowboy heaven,” Small said.
Joe W. Moore, or “Ramrod,” owns a ranch in New Jersey and comes from a long line of cowboys from Texas.
“We went to church in the wagon with horses,” Moore recalled. “We used horses for everything.”
He trains horses for pleasure riding, trail riding and for shows.
Albany also held a Juneteenth celebration Saturday at Arbor Hill Community Center.
That fourth annual event featured a barbecue, give-a-ways, information booths and workshops. Winners were announced for a “What Juneteenth Means to Me” essay and poster contest.