Black Pioneers

Images of the Black Experience on the North American Frontier

It is difficult to piece together existing records that describe the migrations of African Americans in the nineteenth-century American West. Efforts to assemble collections of oral histories, images, diaries, and other written documents on the black experience in the Western United States and Canada have proven surprisingly fruitful, however, and the rewarding culmination of such research flourished in the archival images found in this second edition of John Ravage’s Black Pioneers.

Using public and private collections in every western state and in Canada, Ravage has gathered more than three hundred photographs, line drawings, lithographs, stereoviews, and other images. This new edition also adds sections on black entertainers and ranchers, a chapter on the dating of historic photographs and their genealogical significance, as well as an expanded bibliography. All aid understanding of the black frontier experience.

Ravage goes beyond the stereotypical photography of the era, which often reflected white fears and prejudices, to present the works of frontier photographers. Galveston’s Lucius Harper, Denver’s John Green, and the Northwest’s nomadic James Presley Ball all bring life to their subjects and meaning to their presence in the American West. Black Pioneers is a vibrant visual document of the profound influence blacks had on communal and frontier history.

John W. Ravage is professor emeritus of mass media at the University of Wyoming. He is the author of Television: The Directors Viewpoint and Singletree, and the editor of Kenneth Wiggins Porter’s The Negro on the American Frontier.

Table of Contents:
Foreword by Quintard Taylor
1. Moving Westward and Northward
2. Early Imagery
3. Black Westerners in White Mythology
4. Black Photographers in the West
5. Warriors and Soldiers
6. Cowhands and Ranch Hands
7. Women of the West
8. The Adventurers
9. Across the Country’s Interior
10. To the Coast
11. Alaska and the Pacific Northwest
12. “Haole ‘Ele ‘Ele” in Owhyhee
13. Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd
14. Entertainers and Artists
15. Nonphotographic Imagery
Appendix. A Short History of Photography: Dating Old Images
List of Collections

Praise and Reviews:
"The reader comes away from this study with an appreciation for the diversity of black experiences in the West. Makes an important contribution to U.S. historiography and African American studies. We are all richer for the work that John Ravage has done."—New Mexico Historical Review

"The outstanding narrative accompanying the images, superior topical organization, list of collections, and extensive bibliography would do credit to any writer."—Roundup Magazine

"Ravage's photographs and biographical sketches are extraordinary and quite impressive. His selected photographs are exceptional and make for a very attractive book, which is also clearly written, with chapter titles reflecting concise and descriptive narrative and analysis. His book has historical and social value."—North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains

"[Ravage] deserves our gratitude for unearthing the stories of a group of people whose voices and lives have long been silenced or ignored by the mass media."—The Bloomsbury Review

"A sumptuous visual feast of more than 200 images, many of them never before published, of African-American Americans in the West. Offers us an absorbing excursion into the ways African-American Westerners were seen and, in some cases, chose to represent themselves. A sprawling, exuberant book."—The Boston Globe

"A picture may be worth a thousand words, but this adage becomes an understatement of enormous proportions when Ravage's Black Pioneers is the book on hand. This is the book that could become the guide for historians who realize the need for revisionary history. Ravage articulates a truth that stares at viewers: African Americans played the same roles in opening up the West as did the whites and other ethnic groups. Ravage intended it to reach the consciousness of its readers and viewers. It does."—Review of Texas Books