On July 11, a team of middle school to college-aged students from Georgia and North Carolina set out on a two-week bicycle ride that includes a tour of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a national heritage area that passes through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The team aims to celebrate the region’s defining culture and to support the economy of its South Atlantic coastal residents.
The “De Paat ta Freedum Tour,” in the Gullah dialect, or “Path to Freedom Tour,” is a collaboration between the BRAG (Bike Ride Across Georgia) Dream Team and Triangle Bikeworks’ Spoke’n Revolutions Youth Cycling from Chapel Hill, NC. The team of 33 cyclists includes 21 students and 12 adult coaches. Of the 700-mile ride from Durham, NC, to St. Augustine, FL, 550 miles of the route is the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, stretching from Wilmington, NC, to Jacksonville, FL.
The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor traverses a region once famous for rice farmed by enslaved Africans, who were largely left on their own because of malarial conditions, and thus, were able to retain much of their native language and folkways.
In August of 2014 the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission formed a partnership with the East Coast Greenway Alliance (ECGA), the organization leading the effort to complete a 2,900-mile biking and walking trail that connects Maine with Florida. The East Coast Greenway overlaps with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor through coastal North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
From July 11-23, these dedicated cyclists will cycle 46 - 80 miles each day, camp each night, and visit colleges and other educational institutions on their route, such as the Penn Center on St. Helena Island. The tour will also include a visit to the Armstrong, FL, community that has become known for hosting cyclist events.
Coach Kevin Hicks of Triangle Bikeworks’ Spoke’n Revolutions initiated the idea for the Gullah Geechee Tour. “Spoke’n Revolutions Youth Cycling is delighted to continue doing its part in the effort to expose youth to the beauty and wonders of the National Park system. In bringing young cyclists to the home of one of America’s most unique cultures, this will certainly be one of our most enriching and exciting tours.”
“This is the launch of a bike tour that we hope will interest cyclists and families from across the nation and will help promote the rich culture of Gullah Geechee people,” said Coach Atiba Mbiwan, a 20-year volunteer with the BRAG Dream Team. “We can see the tour happening year after year.”
Both groups have previously led their own youth tours on the Underground Railroad Bike Trail. In the summer of 2014, they led their first two-week joint venture from the King Center in Atlanta and arrived at the King Memorial in Washington, D.C. on July 4.
Herman Blake, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, said of the tour, “I cannot contain my enthusiasm for this extraordinary activity. It shows great promise for overcoming some of the challenges faced by our Gullah Geechee patrimony.”
Tour support also comes from the National Park Service. National heritage areas - 41 in all - are congressionally designated as public-private entities within the park service.
For the ECGA, its partnership with the corridor commission is “a key priority,” said Executive Director Dennis Markatos-Soriano of the Durham-based nonprofit. “The East Coast Greenway route is a mosaic of historic cultures, and we are honored to highlight this rich culture with this tour.’” ECGA Southeast Program Consultant, Herb Hiller, added, “The partnership uniquely combines placemaking, health advocacy, youth, conservation, green mobility and tourism with cultural retention and economic development.”
The tour launch is Saturday, July 11 at 7 AM from C.M. Herndon Park, located at 511 Scott King Rd, Durham, NC 27713.
For live updates from the tour, please follow the hashtag #freedumtour on Twitter and Instagram.