White hat, black history

The Chisholm KidThe Tulsa Voice
December 5, 2018
Jezy J. Gray

During his 1965 debate with William F. Buckley, author and cultural critic James Baldwin offered a bruising observation about representation and the American western genre.

“It comes as a great shock to see Gary Cooper killing off the Indians,” he said of watching white heroes in films like High Noon as a young black kid. “And although you are rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians are you.”

Baldwin’s critique can help visitors understand the value of the Gilcrease Museum’s latest exhibit, The Chisholm Kid: Lone Fighter for Justice for All. Curated by the Museum of UnCut Funk, it explores the legacy of the trailblazing Chisholm Kid comic strip—featuring a black cowboy as its eponymous hero—which ran during the early 1950s as a color insert in The Pittsburgh Courier, one of the country’s pre-eminent African American newspapers.

The exhibit, at Gilcrease from Dec. 14 through March 17 of 2019, will introduce Tulsa to the first black cowboy ever featured in a comic strip—an illuminating cultural artifact, nearly lost to time, revealing the American West as a more diverse place than its most iconic portrayals would suggest.

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The Chisholm Kid: Lone Fighter for Justice for All is on view Dec. 14, 2018 – March 17, 2019.