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African-American and western culture, not far from each other

Last Updated Jul 10, 2019 at 10:02 am MDT

CALGARY – It doesn’t get more country than headlining the Cowboys Music Festival, but “Old Town Road” performer Lil Nas X didn’t initially receive a warm welcome on the Billboard Country charts.

His show comes after he was booted off the Billboard Country charts, something that had fans arguing that Billboard’s decision was segregating the African-American performer from the genre.

And while most people picture John Wayne when they think “cowboy”, one Calgary historian says you don’t have look far to see the black community has its place in western culture.

Historian and filmmaker Cheryl Foggo says the black community played a big role in establishing Alberta.

“Going back more than a century, so it doesn’t seem like news to me,” said Foggo. “It doesn’t seem like we should even be having a conversation if we belong in country music.”

Her ancestors were part of a wave of Americans who came here around 1910, they settled, they had their own ranches.

“They created these small rural communities that were definitely farming and country communities. They had tractors, they rode horses.”

Currently, Foggo is filming a documentary about John Ware, a black cowboy, renowned for his work as a rancher in rural Alberta.

Ware, who was born a slave in South Carolina and was chosen to herd cattle in Alberta, arrived Canada in the early 1880s. He quickly became a legend in an industry dominated by white ranchers–a tall, athletic black man who could easily tame the wildest of horses.

Foggo says Ware still inspires African-Canadian communities today.

“I’ve met a lot of young black men who, you know, Stampede time rolls around and they go to work and they have to wear a cowboy hat and they are like, you know, ‘What’s up with this?'” explains Foggo.

“When they hear the story of John Ware, they realize that they can claim that aspect of their Calgary heritage.”

Foggo says the cowboys like her ancestors and John Ware, aren’t reflected in media or school books.

“It’s so interesting and filled with so much struggle and triumph and fascinating people that I just feel more people should know about it.”