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2019 ZEKE Award: First Place

Delta Hill Riders

Rory Doyle | MS, United States

James McGee poses for a portrait atop his horse in Bolivar County, Mississippi Nov. 4, 2017.

It's estimated that just after the Civil War, one in four cowboys were African American. Yet this population was drastically underrepresented in popular accounts, and it is still. The “cowboy” identity retains a strong presence in many contemporary black communities.

This ongoing project, "Delta Hill Riders," sheds light on the overlooked subculture of African American cowboys and cowgirls in the rural Mississippi Delta. The work resists both historical and contemporary stereotypes. I’ve captured black heritage rodeos, horse shows, trail rides, “Cowboy Night” at black nightclubs, and subjects’ homes across the Delta.

It's a story that's particularly timely with the current political environment, and one that provides a renewed focus on rural America. I have captured a group of riders showing love for their horses and fellow cowboys/cowgirls, while also passing down traditions and historical perspectives among generations.

Ultimately, the project aims to press against my own old archetypes — who could and could not be a cowboy, and what it means to be black in Mississippi — while uplifting the voices of my subjects.

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