Modeshift will be introducing an inspiring Travel Champion each week throughout Black History Month to celebrate the Sheroes past and present who have made outstanding contributions to Travel and Transport and have inspired active and sustainable travel today.
This week we are delighted to share an inspiring story about a Black cyclists who paved the way for freedom and equality.
KATHERINE T. “KITTIE” KNOX BRAVELY CONFRONTED THE RACIAL AND GENDER BARRIERS OF THE LATE 19TH CENTURY
Born in Boston, Katherine T. “Kittie” Knox (1874-1900) worked as a seamstress but discovered a passion for bicycling. She was a talented bike rider and a member of Boston’s Riverside Cycling Club, one of the country’s first Black cycling groups. She challenged the idea that bicycling was an activity meant for men and often finished ahead of her male competition in bicycle races. Knox insisted on riding her bicycle in baggy trousers instead of the long skirts that women were expected to wear at the time. She joined the overwhelmingly male-dominated League of American Wheelmen (LAW), the predecessor to today’s League of American Bicyclists (LAB).
In 1894, LAW banned Black people from belonging to the organization. Knox challenged this head-on. She showed up at LAW’s annual meeting in 1895 to present a certificate confirming that she had joined prior to the group’s “white only” membership policy. Several LAW members came to Knox’s defence, but many others expressed strong objections to her attendance and she was kicked out of the meeting. This sparked debate between LAW members who wanted to uphold racial segregation and those who felt that racial segregation was wrong. Kittie Knox was eventually accepted by LAW, making her the first Black person to be recognized as a member of the organization.
Kittie Knox helped to desegregate the bicycling world. She is celebrated around the United States as a champion of racial and gender equality in bicycling. Her grave at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA is now part of the African American Heritage Trail. In 2013, the City of Cambridge issued a Kittie Knox proclamation to celebrate her life and later named the Kittie Knox Bike Path after her. The League of American Bicyclists recently presented its first annual Katherine T. “Kittie” Knox Award, which recognizes a champion of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Ayesha McGowan, the nation’s first Black woman pro-racer, won the Kittie Knox award for her competitive example, her accomplishments, and her voice pushing for more inclusion in bicycling.