Juneteenth Round-Up: Four Black History Bike Tours

Nedra Deadwyler - Jun 16, 2023
Juneteenth Bike Tours Image Header
Illustration by Justine Ross

In 2013, I was invited on a bike tour to celebrate the opening of the Alabama Civil Rights Trail. At each site, we heard from people who had lived through the events that literally put locations like the Safe House in Greensboro on the map. The experience impacted me so much that when I got home to Atlanta, I started planning. On Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day, I held a community bike ride. I passed out flyers and made an event on this new-to-me thing called Facebook. To my surprise, about one hundred people showed up. So Civil Bikes, my company, was born. Since then, we’ve hosted many more free community bike rides, advocacy events for mobility justice, and Black heritage tours. 

I’m far from the only one doing this kind of work; particularly after the summer of 2020, there was an explosion in solidarity, Black heritage, and BIPOC bike rides across the country. I recently spoke with several Black bike tour operators to learn more about their organizations and the tours they run. If you’re looking to celebrate Juneteenth, or just get educated about the Black heritage in your city, tours like these can help you get out of your home, connect with others, and learn.

Black History Bike Ride (Austin, Texas)

In 2019, Talib Abdullahi was a young man living in Austin, Texas. He had grown up racing mountain bikes and had kept his passion for biking into his 20s. But in 2020, his hobby — and his life — changed. Like many people, Abdullahi saw the murder of George Floyd, and the social justice uprisings that occurred after, and was spurred to action.  

A week before Juneteenth 2020, he planned Austin’s first Black History Bike Ride (BHBR). He wanted to show people that the racial segregation of his city was no accident — while early Austin was integrated, in 1928 Black folks were forced to move to the east side, instigating a pattern of displacement and economic and social upheaval that continues to this day. Abdullahi also wanted to share sites that show how Black Austinites have resisted everyday racial injustices over time, like the Gold Dollar Building, the site of the first Black-owned newspaper in Austin, and the University of Texas campus, which in 1950 finally opened up to students of color after Heman Marion Sweatt pursued legal action to overturn the rejection of his admission. 

Abdullahi posted about the event on his Instagram. But he didn’t know if anyone would show up.

The day of the first ride, an estimated 400 people took part. Abdullahi says, “Anyone can be an everyday changemaker” — it just requires tapping into one’s passions and deciding to do something good for others.

Juneteenth Ride Cindy Elizabeth
Group photo from the third annual Juneteenth Social Ride by Black History Bike Ride. Image credit: Cindy Elizabeth

The one-time ride has since grown to become a community-led nonprofit. Two additional guides work together to lead public and private tours around Black heritage sites in Austin. They also mentor cycling groups that wish to form their own Black history rides. 

This Juneteenth, BHBR will be hosting its annual Juneteenth Social Ride, starting at the Texas African American History Memorial and ending at Rosewood Park, where there will be Juneteenth festivities taking place. RSVP via this link.

Juneteenth Ride Black. History BikeRide
Photo of the third annual Juneteenth Social Ride by Black History Bike Ride. Image credit: Black History Bike Ride

Social Bike Rides (Shreveport and Bossier, Louisiana)

Greg Powell, an entrepreneur and Louisiana native, has a gregarious voice — you can feel his smile beam through a phone call. The son of a local legend of candy-making (Dardanella “The Queen of Pralines” Powell), Powell grew up in Shreveport, a majority Black city that he says is “filled with vacancies and not much for residents to do.” It stands in sharp contrast to its neighbor Bossier, an affluent, primarily white suburb filled with casinos, hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops. People rarely cross the boundary between the neighborhoods, says Powell, let alone get to meet each other or share their interconnected histories.

Social Bike Rides Shreveport
Louisiana State Senator Royce Duplessis, Democrat District 5 (far left), enjoys a bike ride with Social Bike Rides while visiting Shreveport. Image credit: Social Bike Rides

Powell started Social Bike Rides in 2019 as a way to bring these racially divided communities together. The organization hosts bike tours along the Red River Bicycle Trail, a more than eight-mile scenic river trail that connects Shreveport’s downtown to Bossier’s East Bank. Along the way, folks stop at Marshall Mural Mile, a beautification project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and led by local councilpersons and artists. One of the murals, Once in a Millennium Moon by artist Meg Saligman, which envelops the AT&T building and was painted by a team of 11 artists and 565 residents, was once the largest mural in the world. The tour also travels through historic Black communities like Milam Street, where riders will see historic Black churches, houses, cemeteries, and schools, a statue of Huddie William Ledbetter, the famous blues and folk musician better known as “Lead Belly,” and the original KOKA-AM radio station location (the station still plays mostly gospel today).

Social Bike Ride Antioch Church
Social Bike Rides bike tour passing by Antioch Baptist Church. Image credit: Social Bike Rides

Powell was inspired by Get Up N Ride NOLA, which was started in New Orleans in 2015 by community advocates Blake Owens and Nick Reed. According to Powell, their “Night Time Vibe Rides” — bike rides with music playing and lights threaded through the wheels’ spokes — are legendary (and have since been copied all over the world). The size of the group, the slow and social pace, and the flat terrain make them accessible to riders of all levels. Powell took those qualities to heart when designing his tours and bike rides in Shreveport and Bossier. Plus, he also rents out cruiser-style bicycles with lights in order to make joining a ride, even at night, easy. 

Powell started Social Bike Rides with a few thousand dollars and 12 used bicycles with occasional support from friends and family. Today, Powell hosts regular rides periodically as well as additional special rides and Black history tours. 

For Juneteenth, Powell will host a night ride on Saturday, June 17. Join them via this link.

Major Knox Adventures’ 1928 Legacy Tour (New York to D.C.)

In 1928, five Black women, Marylou Jackson, Velma Jackson, Ethyl Miller, Leolya Nelson, and Constance White, biked 250 miles from Harlem, New York, to Washington, D.C. The 1920s for Black people was an era of acute racial violence; although rich hubs of Black middle-class communities thrived in places like Harlem and D.C., traveling between them was perilous. They made it in record time: fewer than 65 hours.

Scurlock Photo Major Knox Adventures
Historian Marya McQuirter found this photo of the five Black women, Marylou Jackson, Velma Jackson, Ethyl Miller, Leolya Nelson, and Constance White, who biked from New York City to D.C. in 1928. Scurlock photo published in The Afro American, Baltimore, MD, on April 14, 1928. Image credit: Major Knox Adventures

In 2021, Keisha Roberson, a D.C.-based endurance runner and coach, learned about these women’s remarkable adventure. She admired how they had taken “this bike trip for pleasure and their love of the ‘great-out-of-doors.’ ” She made it her mission to re-create the journey. With her company, Major Knox Adventures (MKA), she spearheaded the 1928 Legacy Tour, inviting people across the country and world to join her.  

Roberson told Rev that by tracing the route these women rode, including staying in the places they slept (such as the YMCA in Philadelphia and D.C.) and sightseeing what they saw (like Howard University and the National Mall), she could truly contemplate and feel what the original riders must have experienced. The ride helped Roberson “feel a sense of belonging in cycling” and a “sisterhood” with the women around her. 

MKA’s next event will be a tour of the Chesapeake Bay in September.

1928 Legacy Tour
Cyclists who joined the 2023 edition of the 1928 Legacy Tour. Image credit: Major Knox Adventures

Civil Bikes (Atlanta, Georgia)

I started Civil Bikes as a way to build community and bring awareness to both the unique Black history of Atlanta and the pressures of gentrification that could result in that history’s erasure. Some of the sites we visit on our tours are in historical Black neighborhoods, such as Sweet Auburn, where Dr. King matured into a leader for civil rights. We also talk to artists at murals and sculptures, local entrepreneurs at their places of business, and docents at cultural sites. I’ll lead our groups into conversations about environmental justice; experiences of Black, Indigenous, people of color, and LGBTQAI+ communities; housing and development; and current events. 

For Juneteenth this year, Civil Bikes will be at a community event hosting an art activation. To learn more, follow us on Instagram @civil_bikes.

Civil Bikes Bike Tour Sweet Auburn
Civil Bikes bike tour in Sweet Auburn Historic District. Mural reads, “Long Live Grip Playza” by Dr. Dax. Image credit: Courtesy of Civil Bikes

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