The Long Ride Home: Black Cowboys in America

The Long Ride Home: Black Cowboys in America
By Ron Tarver Essay by Art T. Burton George F. Thompson Publishing August 2024
A book about the Black cowboy in contemporary America unlike any other!

The only book to tell the story of the contemporary Black cowboy experience––and the only one to feature photographs––The Long Ride Home presents over 100 color and black-and-white images that convey the beauty, romance, and visual poetry of this way of life and its rich heritage. Although Black cowboys have long been a fixture on the American landscape, few people are aware of their enduring contributions to western history and the settlement of the frontier and of their unique culture that continues to thrive today in urban as well as rural areas all over the country.

The Long Ride Home contains beautiful, compelling, and often surprising contemporary images of African-American cowboy culture that affirm a thriving culture of Black-owned ranches and rodeo operations, parades, inner-city cowboys and retired cowhands––and Black cowgirls of all ages, too. Viewed together they question our long-held notions of what it means to be a cowboy, and with that, what it means to be an American.

The Long Ride Home couldn’t be more timely, coming as it does on the heels of Beyoncé’s hit album, Cowboy Carter (2024) and Idris Elba’s Concrete Cowboy (2021). Elba’s film was based on Greg Neri’s 2013 book, Ghetto Cowboy, about contemporary African-American cowboy culture of Philadelphia and was shot in some of the same neighborhoods where Tarver also made images.

In addition to Tarver’s beautiful and compelling photographs, The Long Ride Home includes an essay by Art. T. Burton, an expert on the history of Black cowboys. This book is both a tribute to and celebration of the Black cowboy in America and provides an invaluable and unique perspective on American culture and history as well as the Black experience in America.

About the Author
Ron Tarver comes from a family of African American cowboys. He grew up in Fort Gibson, a small agricultural community in rural northeastern Oklahoma. His grandfather, a member of the Black Freedman of the Cherokee Tribe, was a working cowboy during the 1940s, and Tarver spent many long, hot summer days hauling hay and working on local farms and ranches, occasionally rounding up stray cows. Tarver has distinguished himself in the field of fine-art photography. In 2021, he was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, in Creative Arts Photography and he has been in more than thirty solo and eighty group exhibitions. His photographs are also in numerous collections, including the National Museum of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution, Oklahoma History Center, Philadelphia Museum of Art, State Museum of Pennsylvania, and Studio Museum in Harlem. As a long-time staff photographer for The Philadelphia Inquirer, he shared the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for his work on a series documenting school violence in the Philadelphia public school system, was nominated for three additional Pulitzers, and was honored with awards from World Press Photos and the Sigma Delta Chi Award of the Society of Professional Journalists. Tarver is currently Associate Professor of Art at Swarthmore College. He is co-author, with journalist Yvonne Latty, of We Were There: Voices of African-American Veteran from World War II to the War in Iraq (Harper Collins, 2004), which was accompanied by a traveling exhibition that debuted at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

About the Contributor
Art T. Burton retired in 2015 after spending thirty-eight years in higher education as a professor of history at Prairie State College and South Suburban College and as an administrator in African-American Student Affairs at Benedictine University, Loyola University Chicago and Columbia College Chicago. He is the author of several groundbreaking books on African-American history in the West, most recently Cherokee Bill: Black Cowboy-Indian Outlaw (Eakins Press, 2020) and Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves (Bison Books, 2022).

“Ron Tarver was one of the earliest photographers to dedicate himself to documenting the lives of Black cowboys, which he has done for 30 years. As a boy growing up in Oklahoma surrounded by ranchers, farmers, and horsemen, many of whom happened to be African American, he understood their culture not as a Hollywood concept, but as a demanding way of life. His images of urban cowboys, rodeo riders, and ranch hands radiate an intimacy born of trust often nurtured over generations. The Long Ride Home celebrates the heritage and the enduring resilience of these Black cowboys, who may have surfaced into popular culture awareness only in the last few years, but who actually helped shape the American West over 150 years ago. ”
—Elizabeth Krist Chang, former Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine and founding member of the Visual Thinking Collective

“Ron Tarver is a treasure, as a photographer, artist, teacher, and human being. His work is well meant, smart, and relevant.”
—Henry Horenstein, photographer, filmmaker, and Professor of Photography at Rhode Island School of Design

“Ron Tarver’s sensitive photographs portray Black men and women in the iconic roles of American cowboy and cowgirl, revealing their important place in the romantic tradition of the West.”
—Elizabeth Spungen, Executive Director of The Print Center, Philadelphia, PA