Is Anything Black About the American West?

The black American experience is more than just Harlem and Mississippi, North and South, ghettoes and Jim Crow. There was a Western front, and it wasn’t all that quiet.

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I don’t think my ancestors on either side tossed their blackness off the wagon when they crossed into the wide, open spaces west of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon Line. On a basic level, you’d know it when my father waxes poetic about oxtails or admits that just hearing the words “mustard greens” makes his mouth water. Or when my mother harangues my sister about her menu for family gatherings: “If you have greens, you have got to have cornbread!”

Kenneth J. Cooper, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, is a freelance journalist based in Boston.