While historical tales of African-American cowboys such as Nat Love, Bronco Sam and Bill Pickett may have their origins in the South and West, one Summit author tells the tale of a modern-day black cowboy and educator from New Jersey.
Author Lisa K. Winkler's new book "On The Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America," recounts the true story of Miles Dean, her colleague in the Newark school system who rode his horse over 4,000 miles across the country in 2008 to celebrate the contributions of African Americans to U.S. history.
“When I first met Miles Dean, I was hooked,” Winkler said in a press release about first hearing about the historical journey.
“[Miles Dean's] passion for his subject and determination to accomplish something that few would undertake awed me," said Winkler.
She met Dean, who is in his early 60s, while the two were teaching in a Newark school and wanted to help him tell his story of riding his horse cross-country. The recently released memoir recounts the six-month adventure from Lower Manhattan to California. In addition to the book, Winkler has written about black jockeys for the Smithsonian Institute.
The story of Dean is as much a spirited memoir as it is a historical record of African-American contributions to U.S. culture. "I am the daughter of liberal parents," said Winkler, "who marched in Washington, D.C. for civil rights." She said she was enthralled by the stories Miles told and the connections he made to events in black history during his trek across America.
“I loved that our students had Miles Dean, who not only taught history, but actually had the guts and real personal drive to make history living! He truly had his horse, ‘walk his talk!” Charity Haygood, principal of Brick Avon Avenue Academy in Newark said in a press release.
Recounting Dean's marathon horseback ride also becomes a journey through black history in Winkler's book, with stories about the following:
- African-Americans who served as U.S. marshals, upholding the law protecting settlers by chasing bank robbers, cattle thieves and other bandits.
- Black cowboys who, for the first half of the 20th century, were barred from competing against white cowboys in the prize events at rodeos and were banned from appearing in motion pictures, both ways in which cowboys supplemented their ranch wages.
- Philadelphia’s Washington Square, once called “Congo Square,” was the site of several slave auctions that separated Africans from loved ones, sending them into servitude.
- As the nation’s capital from 1790 to 1800 Philadelphia hosted George Washington’s presidency. A known slaveholder, Washington brought his slaves to Philadelphia, circumventing the law that granted slaves freedom after a six-month residency by moving them back to Virginia.
- The jockey who rode Man o’ War, who won 20 of 21 races in the early 1920s, was the black jockey Burns Murphy, son of a former slave. Murphy claimed three Kentucky Derby victories and won 44 percent of all the races he rode, a record still unmatched.
- The participation of blacks in racing dates back to colonial times, when the British brought their love of horseracing to the New World. Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson frequented the track, and when President Andrew Jackson moved into the White House in 1829, he brought his horses and his black jockeys with him.
- The first performer on the Grand Ole Opry was DeFord Bailey, an African American country music star from the 1920s. A grandson of slaves, Bailey learned to play the harmonica while convalescing after polio. He premiered on radio, recorded many albums, and toured with other country stars throughout the South and the West.