Black History Month and Bicycling
In honor of Black History Month we looked into the archives to share these incredible stories with you. Learn about soldiers on bikes, female cyclists’ cross -country adventures, and one of the world record holders who set the record for the fastest bicycle mile!
Katherine T. “Kittie” Knox
In the late 19th century, Katherine T. “Kittie” Knox, a transportation pioneer from Boston, bravely confronted the era’s race and gender barriers. She was very much involved and invested in the bicycling craze of the time and joined the overwhelmingly male League of American Wheelmen (LAW) established right here in Newport, RI.
‘The issues of race and gender were thrust into the national spotlight, and while Kittie had hardly been received with open arms, she had achieved, with her courage and stylish outfits, an unprecedented level of celebrity.’ – League of American Bicyclists
Bikes, Race, and Racing in 1928
In 1928, five African American women set off from New York City on a 250 mile adventure to Washington D.C. Their three day ride was about personal pleasure and challenge and calls into question our ideas of who bicycled in history and why.
Historian Marya McQuirter has a deep insight into the 1928 ride.
America’s Black Army on Wheels – The 25th Infantry Fort Missoula Buffalo Soldiers.
In 1896, the US military gathered a small group of soldiers to test a new military mode of transportation — the bicycle.
With a claim that “unlike a horse, a bike did not need to be fed and watered and rested, and would be less likely to collapse,” — they clearly never met my bike — the army selected a regiment to test the utility of the bicycle in service. Their choice for the job? The 25th Infantry Fort Missoula Buffalo Soldiers.
The Buffalo Soldiers were African American soldiers who fought in segregated units after the Civil War. The newly formed bicycle unit consisted of eight enlisted men and their white commander, Lieutenant James A. Moss. The 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps at Fort Missoula, Mont. — or “Iron Riders” as they were known — rode 1,900 miles to St. Louis on brand new Spalding single gear bicycles, attracting great attention where ever they stopped and even their own riding press detail. After the test trip, Lt. Moss noted that, while the bike mounted soldiers may not replace the mounted cavalry, the bicycle corps would best serve as adjuncts to both cavalry and infantry.
African-Americans were systematically excluded from cycling for a long time, as with other sports in U.S. history, and ended up doing it less as a result. That seems to be rapidly changing. According to a 2013 report by the League of American Bicyclists and the Sierra Club, from 2001 to 2009 ridership among African-Americans doubled, despite the lack of representation in advocacy groups and the lack of cycling infrastructure in communities known as “transit deserts.” A number of minority cycling groups have sprung up in recent years all over the country, including Red, Bike & Green, a collective founded in 2007 and aimed at creating a black bike culture; and the National Brotherhood of Cyclists, founded the following year by a network of affiliated black cycling clubs. In 2011, a group called Black Women Bike: DC was formed and two years later the national Black Girls Do Bike was born on Facebook. Read more about Courtney’s story.