Black Women of the Old West

Black Women of the Old West book cover“Katz traces the courageous role of Black women in settling the West [and] deftly shows how these pioneering spirits helped stabilize early communities in Texas, Oklahoma, California and elsewhere.”
— Herb Boyd, The Black World Today website and author of Brotherman

“[This book is] a groundbreaking look at a little known subject…which highlights a forgotten population of western settlers—African-American women.”
— National Black Review

African American women appear in few textbooks, Hollywood or TV movies of the West, but they were likely to turn up anywhere in American frontier life. Thousands, welcomed to or born among Native American nations, tried to help stave off the march of white “manifest destiny.”

Many led ordinary, hard working lives in the 19th century, but not all. One drove a stagecoach and delivered the U.S. mail in Cascade, Montana. One, sifting on the back seat of the Marysville-ComptonVille stagecoach, died in a blaze of gunfire during California’s first stagecoach robbery. Another in early Seattle helped her husband run a newspaper. In early Texas, another started an impassioned crusade to elevate women and liberate the workers of the world.

An African American woman owned Beverly Hills, California and another owned huge parcels of Los Angeles real estate. One founded a Black town in Oklahoma, another ran a large carting business in Nevada, and the funeral of another was conducted by the Colorado Pioneers Association and attended by the Governor of Colorado and the Mayor of Denver.

However, their presence was ignored when scholars, textbook writers and movie and TV makers, spun their lily-white frontier tales. Black women rarely appeared even as servants and cooks, maids and nannies.

It has been argued that since African American women were a tiny minority within a western minority, omitting them was hardly an act of discrimination. But though few numbers in the saga of the wilderness they earned an honored niche. As the nation grapples with the current results of its multicultural past, the story of frontier African American women deserves a telling.

Additional reviews

“This is one of the most interesting books I ever read.”
— Dr. Betty Shabazz, WLIB radio [N.Y.C.]

“This is that perfect find: a book that entertains and enlightens. Mr. Katz’s books on black history are well known to readers young and old. Add this one to the growing list of literary treasures. Browsing through the many pictures is a true delight like meeting distant relatives. A must read.”
— Alice O’Neill, Los Angeles Features Syndicate