Photos by Jenny Jenkins.
Independence 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.
|“I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good — a positive good.” -John C. Calhoun|
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.
All photos by Jenny Jenkins.