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Opinion: A question for Black History Month

During Black History Month (February), it’s appropriate to bring up an interesting query about America’s past: Was the Lone Ranger a black man? If you were a fan of the TV show from 1949 to 1957, it would be hard for you to imagine anyone other than Clayton Moore (white) as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels (Native American) as his faithful companion Tonto.

Old-time movies

Chances are great that Baby Boomers, and probably at least a generation or two after them, watched western movies in which a host of cowboys were white men, perhaps Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and John Wayne. Or, before them, Johnny Mack Brown, Bob Steele, and Ken Maynard. For most of their lives, nothing changed except for the men who played the lead characters: Gary Cooper, Robert Redford, Yul Bryner, and Paul Newman. But those films gave an inaccurate image of life on ranches and open range in the American West of the late nineteenth century.

According to the Library of Congress’ “The American West, 1865-1900,” the motion picture view of the old west discounts the important role played by people of color. “The myth of the cowboy is only one of many myths that have shaped our view of the West… The stereotype of the heroic white cowboy is far from true, however.”



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