Cedar Lane Stables
Cedar Lane was a street named for a grove of cedar trees that once grew south of its intersection with Old South Road (now Pitkin Avenue). These stables are located on land adjacent to a portion of the original Cedar Lane that was once a vegetable farm owned by Herman and John Brockman, known to many as the “radish kings of Long Island.” Despite the urbanization of the surrounding area, members of the Brockman family farmed the land until 1953, when labor costs and increased competition made farming unprofitable. The Brockman’s farm is now home to the Lindenwood Village and Rockwood Park housing developments as well as to Cedar Lane Stables. The Federation of Black Cowboys has used Cedar Lane Stables since February of 1998.
The Federation of Black Cowboys was formed in 1994 when a group of diverse men came together out of their common love of horses and their desire to share the forgotten legacy of the Black West. African Americans played an immeasurable, yet often forgotten, role in the settling of the American frontier. Many African Americans made the journey west after escaping slavery, while others moved westward in wagon trains after emancipation. Many more moved during the exodus of 1879, when many African Americans, convinced that the end of Reconstruction meant the end of their chances for a successful life in the South, relocated to states such as Texas and Oklahoma. By the closing of the American frontier in 1890, there were 500,000 African Americans living in these two states alone.
Many of these frontier settlers found employment as cowboys, a position essential to the economies of many western states. Five thousand black cowboys led cattle up the Chisholm Trail from grazing land in Texas to the railroad in Abilene, Kansas, to be shipped east. Cattle were driven in teams of eight, with the average unit having two cowboys. Some African Americans gained much fame as cowboys during these years: Britton Johnson was considered the best shot in the West right after the Civil War (1861-1864), and Nate “Deadwood Dick” Love and “Stagecoach” Mary Fields both became Western legends. Bill Pickett invented the popular rodeo sport of bulldogging and Will Rogers was employed in Pickett’s rodeo for many years.
The cowboy lifestyle appealed to many African Americans due to their belief that the profession was one in which skill counted more than skin color. Yet black cowboys were far from immune to racism, some having to enter rodeos disguised as Mexicans and most having whatever measure of equality they experienced on the trail vanish upon entering town. African Americans were also almost completely absent from popularized depictions of cowboys, such as dime novels and motion pictures about life in the Old West.
Some whites were soon unable to stand being beaten by African Americans in rodeo competitions and took measures to exclude them from participating. High entrance fees were enacted, and blacks were later banned outright from white-run rodeos. By the 1920s, these measures required African Americans who wished to compete to form their own rodeos.
Besides working for greater awareness of the contributions of African Americans to the American West, the Federation of Black Cowboys works actively in the community. It holds clinics designed to teach children about riding horses, as well as about their anatomy and proper care. The Federation also runs a program for disabled children, teaching them the workings and operations of a horse farm.
Parks obtained jurisdiction over the land that is now Cedar Lane Stables from the Board of Estimate on March 24, 1938 after the land became available due to road improvements on South Conduit Avenue. Cedar Lane Stables is now home to more than 40 horses and contains grazing lands and room for horse trailers. A barn, now over 50 years old, remains on the site from its previous days as a farm. The Federation has acquired rodeo equipment for the sports of bull riding, bucking horse riding, bulldogging and calf roping. The equipment is used in rodeos, which the Federation puts on once or twice a year, each drawing up to 5,000 spectators.