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Darden believes our country’s educational system must reconsider the way students learn American history. He’d like to see black history integrated throughout the school year as well as the subject matter deepened during Black History Month. “He’s had this dream for a long time, to get people more aware of African-American history,” says local playwright and poet Buddy Hannah, “and especially the African-American cowboys.” Hannah arranged Darden’s speaking gigs and did the driving. Often, Darden would rope him into speaking too. “We’d go into classrooms and he was so sincere in his message to young people,” recalls Hannah. “Just from their faces you could tell they loved learning about their history. The message relayed was, ‘Here’s something for you to be proud of — your ancestors weren’t just slaves. Look at all they’ve done. They’ve even helped pave the West!’ “Man,” says Hannah, “his passion is so genuine. If I can be like him when I’m 90, I’ll be very happy.”

If you ain’t making dust, you’re eating it Darden found other ways to express his admiration for black cowboys as well. “I love drawing. Always have,” he says. In his early 20s, after a decade of drawing the white cowboys he saw in movies, Darden wanted to develop his artistic talents, so

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Above and right: Cowboy memorabilia and artifacts from African-American history are part of Darden’s collection, which is being cataloged by the Kalamazoo Valley Museum.

he took a correspondence course out of Chicago. “That didn’t help any. It didn’t give me any kind of feedback to know how I could get better,” he admits. In 1948, Darden and his brother took a class at the Kalamazoo Art Center (now the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts) “to learn to draw the human figure, and we did.” After years spent perfecting his craft, Darden says, “I’ll see something in my mind or see a picture

Ride into History If your organization is interested in showcasing Murphy Darden’s Black Cowboy Exhibit, contact the Black Arts & Cultural Center at 269-349-1035 or via email at info@blackartskalamazoo.org.

Profile for Encore Magazine

Encore February 2019  

Southwest Michigan's Magazine: Murphy Darden is wrangling local black history, eyelashes are a booming business, Cheryl Dickson talks about...

Encore February 2019  

Southwest Michigan's Magazine: Murphy Darden is wrangling local black history, eyelashes are a booming business, Cheryl Dickson talks about...