Delta Hill Riders

Rory Doyle

2017 - Ongoing

Historians agree 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 documentary project in the Mississippi Delta, “Delta Hill Riders,” sheds light on an overlooked African American subculture — one that resists historical and current stereotypes.

The story is timely with the current political environment, and one that provides a renewed focus on rural America. With the hit release of “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, the topic of black cowboy diversity has become a mainstream topic of discussion.

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

  • Peggy Smith grooms her horse, Big Jake, while others relax in the afternoon light in Bolivar County, Mississippi on Oct. 1, 2018.

  • Tyrese Evans (left to right), Jeremy Melvin, and Gee McGee dance atop their horses in the McDonald’s parking lot in Cleveland, Mississippi on Aug. 9, 2017.

  • Earlean Lawrence, 79, poses for a portrait in her living room in Cleveland, Mississippi on Dec. 28, 2019.

  • Newborn Jestin Brown is held by his father, Jessie Brown, at their home in Cleveland, Mississippi on July 2, 2018.

  • Riders make their way through farmland in rural Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, while Joe Wrenn drives his truck during a trail ride on Sept. 28, 2019.

  • Afternoon lights casts on a horse trailer in Bolivar County, Mississippi on Aug 20, 2017.

  • Peggy Smith poses for a portrait on her horse at a trail ride in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi on Aug. 20, 2017.

  • Bree Gary pets her friend’s horse during a muddy trail ride in Charleston, Mississippi on April 27, 2019.

  • Velma Hayes laughs with her granddaughter at her home in Cleveland, Mississippi on July 2, 2018.

  • Jessie Brown (left to right), Tyrese Evans, Gee McGee and Jeremy Melvin ride their horses at dusk in Bolivar County, Mississippi on Aug. 9, 2017.

  • D’Kamiyon Johnson, left, and Carlos Smith share a horse outside a rodeo in Greenville, Mississippi Oct. 27, 2018.

  • Frank Simpson’s cowboy hat rests atop a lamp in his living room in Shelby, Mississippi on Feb. 24, 2018.

  • Archie Beckwith sings at Cowboy Service in Indianola, Mississippi Sept. 24, 2017.

  • Girdine Smith, left, gets her hair prepared for a family photo by her daughter Carolyn Johnson at Smith’s home in Charleston, Mississippi on Dec. 12, 2018.

  • avaris Beamon (left), poses for a portrait with his grandfather, Rogers Beamon, at the annual Christmas parade in Cleveland, Mississippi on Dec. 2, 2017.

  • Joe “Dancing Cowboy” Wrenn poses for a portrait inside his friend’s antique car following a night of partying and dancing in Cleveland, Mississippi on Sept. 3, 2018.

  • An elder cowboy named Aubrey Smith looks out to the dance floor at Club All New Sugar Shack in Choctaw, Mississippi on Aug. 19, 2017.

  • A group of cowboys take to the dance floor at Club Black Castle in Ruleville, Mississippi on Sept. 3, 2018.

  • Gee McGee rears his horse after a rare snowfall in Bolivar County, Mississippi on Jan. 16, 2018.

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