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Sammy Davis Jr., Woody Strode, and the Black Westerner of the Civil Rights Era

Sammy Davis Jr., Woody Strode, and the Black Westerner of the Civil Rights Era

Chapter:
(p.154) 6 Sammy Davis Jr., Woody Strode, and the Black Westerner of the Civil Rights Era
Source:
Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos
Author(s):
Michael K. Johnson
Publisher:
University Press of Mississippi
DOI:10.14325/mississippi/9781617039287.003.0007

In television and film westerns of the 1960s and into the 1970s, two particular African American performers, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Woody Strode, are repeatedly cast as the representatives of the African American West—in popular televisions shows such as The Rifleman and Rawhide, in classic western films such as Sergeant Rutledge and Once Upon a Time in the West. Through Davis and Strode, this chapter examines the dual strategies developed for representing the African American westerner on screen during the civil rights era: the erasure of race, resulting in the character type of the “raceless (black) westerner”; the exact opposite, narratives that explicitly draw attention to race, resulting in the character type of the civil rights westerner. This chapter traces the evolution of those types in later westerns such as Fred Williamson’s blaxploitation film westerns and the television series Hell on Wheels and The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr.

Keywords:   Sammy Davis, Jr., Woody Strode, Blaxploitation, Television Western, Classic Western Films

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