image

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As festivities and celebrations continue into this weekend, the Neill-Cochran House Museum will provide tours of the newly-restored slave quarters– the only thing like it left in Austin. It will also open a brand new exhibit called “A Juneteenth Rodeo.” KXAN spoke with the creator and photographer of the exhibit, Sarah Bird.

Read the full transcript of the interview below or watch it in the video player above. Some responses have been edited for clarity

Jala Washington: Sarah, let’s just talk a little bit about what this exhibition is and what people can expect when it opens this weekend.

Sarah Bird: Well, this is an exhibition of photos that I took in the late 1970s when I was a graduate student at UT in photojournalism. And I was fortunate enough to be pointing the direction of the Black rodeos. I was at that point, doing a series of photographs on what I called renegade rodeos… Native American rodeos, kids, prison police. But the moment I stepped foot onto a Black rodeo, I knew that these were kind of the most vibrant, most intriguing rodeos of them all. And so ultimately, I did a series of photos which I tried to get published back then there was no interest. And as you know, there is now a tremendous amount of rightful interest in Black cowboys, Black cowgirls, and reclamation of Black Heritage in the West.

Washington: Wow, absolutely incredible. And you can just see all of the joy that you were able to capture and these incredible, incredible photos that you were able to take. Sarah, why was it so important for you to compile these photos and really tell the stories? I know I was reading online, you said it felt like a sacred duty for you.

Bird: Yeah, when I rediscovered them, you know, after I tried to get them published and I was roundly rejected by publishers, they told me at that time, there was there was not an audience, not a market for material like this. So, I you know, my heart and bank account were broken. I stored the photos under my bed and there they would have sat probably, if not for a worldwide pandemic, at which point like the rest of the world, I was shamed by Marie Kondo and to tidy up my house a bit discovered, you know, look at these photos again, and I thought, oh my God, I have got to share these with the larger world. So that these, the wonderful contestants and fans and everybody who created this incredible world could get credit for what they had created.

Washington: Wow. Sarah, Black rodeos, or Juneteenth rodeos, as we know they’re called, really became big after slavery — many of the stories only starting to come to light now. Do you think it’s important to continue uncovering these stories and teaching more people about the history?

Bird: Absolutely. I mean, as you know, there’s this huge explosion of interest now, in the history of Blacks in the West and celebration of the contemporary Black rodeo scene, you know, primarily the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeos. There’s a fair amount of awareness that one out of every four hands on the great trail drives of the late 1800s were Black. But in between that time, and now, there’s all these decades of invisibility. And, you know, which I encountered when I brought my photographs back to Austin in the late 70s, early 80s. And my, you know, very wonderful, lovely classmates and friends said, I didn’t know there were Black cowboys. And that, of course, ignited my enthusiasm to get a book published. Because as you know, as a news person, I thought I, you know, I had what we all looked for, which is a story that had not been told images that had not been seen.

Washington: Sarah, it makes me a little emotional seeing those images that you were able to capture. Yeah, truly remarkable. That exhibition we know is going to be open to the public this Saturday at the Neill-Cochran Museum. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for joining us live and thank you for compiling these photos for everyone to see.