With President Joe Biden’s declaration of June 19 — Juneteenth, the day slaves in Galveston, Texas received the news two years AFTER the Emancipation Proclamation — as the newest United States federal holiday fresh on our minds, over 500 of Austin’s stalwart riders joined at the Texas State Capitol African American Historical Memorial for a Black history bike ride around north central Austin, Texas. Your reporter was there, braving the heat and sweatin’ to the oldies with everyone else. Compared to last year during the protests over the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, there were a few less people. But it was still a huge crowd, and it’s a real pleasure to take over many city blocks of streets, in a huge crowd of bicycles, as far as the eye can see. Here’s my report.
Organized again by Talib Abdullahi and a team of volunteer ride leaders, medical street team, snack crew and more. There was support from the Bike Farm van and mechanics from Mellow Johnny’s and Specialized (opening a store in South Austin later this year — you heard it here on ADudeAbikes.com first). Speakers included: Austin City Councilmember and Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, Visit Austin tour guide and leader Harrison Eppright, author of Integrating the 40 Acres: The Fifty-Year Struggle for Racial Equality at the University of Texas) Dwonna Goldstone, PhD, and a few others. As last year, the goals are education, community, and fun.
Sites included the aforementioned memorial, where I learned about Esteban de Dorantes aka Estebanico aka Mustafa Azemmouri who is on the far left of the sculpture. He was an African Berber Muslim who was forced to convert to Catholicism when he was sold to a Spaniard for slavery where he was known as Estavanico. He was brought on an expedition of North America way back in the 1500’s when he and others escaped. Then his ship crashed and he and others were enslaved by Coahuiltecan Indians. Escaping that he went on to explore what later became Texas. Quite a story. We were encouraged to return and read all the plaques and learn more. A fun fact: President Barack Obama gave a speech right near the spot of the memorial back in 2009 when few people thought America could ever have a Black president.
Fewer stops this year seemed to take longer, but fortunately the aforementioned snack team kept people hydrated and nourished. A few people succumbed to the humid heat in the high 90’s, but were cared for and hopefully recovered. As always, the fun part of a social ride is meeting people. I saw a couple, Strava buddies, a few folks from Bike Austin, and talked to others both at stops and on the bike. There were members of the Major Taylor Bicycling Team, Mr. Taylor being an early Black pioneer of bike racing, as well as Ride Bikes Austin, a new social ride group.
If there’s one lesson I would impart it would be something Talib said: “Black history IS American history.” And Harrison made the point that we are part of that history; it doesn’t go away just because we don’t know it or forget it. So I’m glad I got my butt out of bed in time on a hot day to be part of history once again. Talib wants to replicate this in other cities across the U.S. I think it’s a good idea, because to quote George Santayana, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
I think my favorite stop is the Barbara Jordan statue. She was the first African American in the Texas Senate and a U.S. Congresswoman who was on the House Judiciary Committee when it investigated a certain disgraced President Richard Nixon for the Watergate scandal which led to his forced resignation. Other stops included the Haskell House, Huston-Tillotson University, and the historic Victory Grill.
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