Photo Credit: Fortune Vieyra
5 Black Men Biked 1,100 Miles On The Underground Railroad To Honor Ancestors
Five Black men decided to pay homage to the tenacity of their ancestors by biking more than 1,100 miles along the Underground Railroad.
John Shackelford, a Brooklyn-native, organized the trip from Washington, DC to Alabama.
The 26-year-old who has biked all over the world, including Niagara Falls, Helsinki, and Riga, said he was inspired to bike with a purpose following protests that unfolded in 2020.
“That was my big message,” Shackelford told Bicycling. “To inspire more people like me to do what I love.”
Shackelford quickly learned that there were no prescribed routes in those times. That’s when he took matters in his own hands and decided to let his ancestors lead the way.
The trip started in Mobile, Alabama on Sept. 25 at Africatown, an early free Black settlement, and ended in Washington D.C., a city built by enslaved people and where Shackelford grew up. He convinced four of his closest friends to tag along, including Edwardo Garabito, Alexander Olbrich, Rashad Mahoney, and Richard Carson.
Through crowdfunding, merchandise sales and sponsorships, he raised $100,000 to finance a documentary project about the underground railroad bike ride journey.
“Everyone else had some sort of long-distance experience under their belt,” Olbrich said.
“But I had never done anything like this,” Mahoney added. “We tried to have this ‘no man left behind’ thing early on.”
Most days began at 5 a.m. with stretching and a big breakfast to get things going. The men said the riding itself was soul-cleansing, full of rural scenery under sunny skies.
“When you have a solid crew like ours,” Shackelford says, “riding is more relaxing than a daunting task.”
The Underground Railroad helped to free about 40,000 people—just 1 percent of the enslaved population.
After their two-week journey, Mahoney says hopes their ride and the publicity around it will inspire people to be social-justice warriors.