Confronting Calhoun: a bike ride meets the living legacy of white supremacy


confronting calhoun 1.jpgIndependence Day 2015. We were

Indigenous, Eritrian, Nigerian, Korean, Sudanese, Black-American,

White, Puerto-Rican, Columbian, parents, dancers, teachers, artists,

queer, avid cyclists, borrowing bicycles for the day, babies riding

in the bicycle chariot of a parent.

And we were Minnesotans. We believed

that the beautiful waters previously known by the Dakota of this land

as Mde Maka Ska should no longer honor John C. Calhoun. This charmer

enslaved Black people and fought to protect enslavement in the south.

We were riding to change the name and we were beautiful, unexpected,

and powerful.

Jeremy Little is the director of the

Minnesota Black Riders Association. He is a dynamic young man in love

with bicycling and the community. Little reached out to me and other

activists and artists to help him organize a “Freedom Ride” on

the 4th of July to Lake Calhoun in order to bring attention to this

issue. We also had a culminating community BBQ.

We didn’t have much time to plan but

once we got the ball rolling, the support and interest was amazing!

We had beautiful bicycle caravans hailing from north and south

Minneapolis as well as St. Paul. Volunteers were ready with food at

Lake Calhoun for hungry riders and games for children. We wanted it

to not only be revolutionary, but celebratory and joyful.

After we sang a protest song together,

an older white man who approached the crowd and told us to “get

over it,” that “George Washington owned slaves,” “those were

the times” and all sorts of other white supremacist brainwashing

that is used to justify naming public places for celebrated

murderers, rapists, and enslavers.

“It shouldn’t surprise us that

white supremacy has arrived to rear its ugly head,” said with

elegance and earned wisdom by Nekima Levy-Pounds, Minneapolis NAACP

president, activist and lawyer to the diverse group of peaceful and

joyful bicyclists enjoying the day as we were interrupted by the

irate and hateful bystander.

The audacity for him to address his

fellow Minnesotans and suggest we continue to absorb the violence of

honoring these terroristic figures is telling. His white supremacy

was being challenged and he couldn’t help but attack the strength

and love that we were centering towards the indigenous and Black

ancestors, who have been erased and dishonored anytime we utter the

name, “Calhoun.” We sang and chanted and escorted this man and

his dying legacy down the road. Some of the white folk allies who

part of the ride gathered to think of how to engage white ignorance

and take responsibility for the education and healing of white folks

who are troubled and confused like that man.

As a lifetime Minneapolitan, I never

even considered where the name came from. “Calhoun” to me was the

exhale of water, an offering and oasis at the end of a long and

exhaustive Lake Street. When I was growing up my parents would drive

us around the lakes and I would admire the mansions as big as our

neighborhood library, complete with pillars and vibrantly manicured

landscapes. My siblings and I would select which ones we were going

to buy when we grew up and were rich. We would marvel at the large

windows that were immodestly curtain free, expressing wealth that was

confident it was protected even when flaunting itself.

Perhaps naming the lake, “Calhoun,”

was to energetically ensure a sense of primacy to the White elite of

our city, which it has. I hope that one day, not only the name will

be changed, but our world will. I hope we will see indigenous

families and families of color live in the homes around that lake and

feel as entitled to that space as anyone and utter the original name,

Mde Maka Ska, when we acknowledge those sacred waters.

PHOTO: Cyclists on their way to Lake Calhoun for a "Freedom Ride" to raise awareness about the history of the name. (Photo by Jenny Jenkins.)