Austin Black History Social Bike Ride #2

After the previous Sunday’s smaller ride, Bike Ride for Black Lives Matter… I somehow heard about another one even though it was organized on Facey Spacey. I happened to be awake and I’m always in need of more miles. Rather than stand around looking at the police station or state police, I decided to join in and try to learn something. The organizers expected 50 people, and they got at least 500. It was a huge event and lasted four hours in the hot Texas sun, but it was a cool thing that is hoped will catch on in other cities.

Upon arriving at the Texas Capitol, where the masses of cyclists shut down the streets, the organizer and professed history nerd Talib was talking about the African American memorial. We couldn’t get in to look at it, because the grounds have been closed since the worldwide protests against police killing George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and locally Mike Ramos and many more. I spied several people in grey and bright yellow racing kits, and spoke with one of riders. It turned out they were members of the Major Taylor Cycling Club, which has chapters in various states. I hope to follow up and do a separate post about MTCC.

We headed west and overall made about a dozen stops. I won’t recount them all, but the second one was up a pretty big hill. Many riders were not ready for that and wisely got off and walked. I ground up it and stopped to hear about the Hezekiah Haskell House. Long story short, it was owned by a former Buffalo Soldier after the civil war, when many black people lived in this part of West Austin known as Clarksville.

Today, only six black families live there’ because of the classism mixed up with racism, it’s a pricey neighborhood. But back in the late 1800’s, before the city rezoned and forced people of color east of Interstate Highway 35 (a process known as redlining, aka institutional racism), it was a community by and for freed former slaves. Now it’s a small museum, community gardens and gathering space, as well as has a historic marker.

Toward the University of Texas, we came to a very old looking building that housed the first black run newspaper in town. I couldn’t hear the whole spiel, but it was unsettling to have passed by it but never known what it was. To be fair it’s in an area that I seldom frequent, lousy with frat houses and huge student apartment towers as it is. And I think this stop more than any other highlighted how easily history is hidden, if not demolished. That could be said about a lot of history, though. I wondered if such places are in the maybe one chapter on black history that might be in school textbooks now. There sure wasn’t much about the subject back when I was in school, and I grew up in a different city.

At UT we stopped at the Barbara Jordan and Martin Luther King, Jr. statues. We all know Dr. King, but Ms. Jordan was a shero of the civil rights movement. First a Texas State Senator and then US Congresswoman, she has numerous accolades to her name. Again, I had seen neither of these landmarks, or if I had I had forgotten about them. If you’re not a student and familiar with the campus, you could be forgiven for not knowing they were there. But again, that’s how racism works, insidiously. Fortunately, there’s a tour one can take which goes into the history, as it says, “hidden in plain sight.” If you’re in Austin, you can take the Racial Geography Tour.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963

Further stops along the ride included a cemetery, a hair salon where Heman Sweatt’s lawyer and others advocating for equality at the University hung out, and the famous Victory Grill. Famous performers from Etta James to Chuck Berry performed there. And oh yeah, we went by the former home of Azie Taylor Morton, the only African American to ever be Treasurer of the United States, She even had her signature on US currency.

There’s a lot to know, and especially when you don’t know what you don’t know. I for one was humbled by my ignorance, but that’s no excuse. We take for granted that we know and understand the world around us, especially when powerful forces and systems work to keep knowledge of other peoples and cultures and their histories and contributions out of reach of the mainstream. But the times, they are a-changing. As a sign I’ve seen around says, “I understand that I will never understand but I stand with you.” Undoing white privilege and white supremacy is a huge undertaking but recent events show us that racism is not gone, so this work must be done. In the streets, in the statehouses and city halls, but in our hearts and minds as well.

Though I’ve learned another language, traveled abroad to be an unarmed international observer to indigenous, labor and other activists, been arrested with Native Americans on their tribal lands protesting nuclear testing, studied cross cultural education, been a member of multicultural teams in jobs and in volunteer activist groups, there’s always more to learn and do. This was just one step, one ride, in that journey for A Dude. So I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of this historical moment and do my small part to advocate for sensible things like this:

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