Thank you, Bill Bright, International Museum of the Horse, Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington, Kentucky.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which guarantees & protects women’s right to vote. IMH planned to cover Bernice Ende, Lady Long Rider’s long ride commemorating 100 years of women’s suffrage. Due to the global pandemic, the ride was cancelled. Regardless, the International Museum of the Horse celebrates Bernice’s spirit and passion for history with a new long riding exhibit on display until November 2020.
I met Angela Bates in 2006, my second year out on the 5000-mile ride, coming through Kansas in late September. The weather remained hot, and I rode with a great deal of inexperience – it became the hardest ride of all. It was here that I met Angela, who introduced me to the life and history of Nicodemus, Kansas, an African American settlement of newly emancipated men, women, and children who had been enslaved their entire lives by, of course, white people.
Through Angela, I discovered the story of people searching for a new life, with almost disbelief, that they were now freed from slavery, but not free from the target of racism.
It was my experience in Nicodemus that set my mind on, “Life without fear is freedom.” Where that phrase came from I do not know, but it came to me the more I rode and traveled, as I did for so many years. I remember riding from that town and thinking, “Could an African American woman ride around the country like this?” and if she was determined to do so, what would HER experience be? Or, an American Indian, or Latina, or any woman not white and Christian? Would they be welcomed at mostly white folks’ homes as I had been day after day?
I thought so much about the stories Angela shared with me. Her own ancestors who were once enslaved, “Freed” in the failing period of Reconstruction. And I thought, “No they were not free.” They lived knowing that at any time, people–white people, could come, lynch, imprison, beat, burn out, or run off. This they lived with and yet, AND YET they survived and thrived in towns such as Nicodemus. They loved and flourished until their success was seen as a threat, as in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where they burned Black Wall Street in the Tulsa Race Massacre, with over 300 lies lost. IF life without fear is freedom, then how could it have been for them?
During this Covid-19 pandemic, we see the best in people and the worst in people. It is a time to ask ourselves, “How would we feel if we had this history?” — a history of being subjected to the worst of humanity — and it continues to be so.
Systemic racism is real, and facing inequality is not easy — because, it requires white people to think outside our own white experience to become aware of racism, especially systemic racism which will at times require us to give up something in order to have equality for all. We must give up our ignorance of ALL of American history. We are not a “White America.” We are a rich and diverse country that can be much more if only we come together as one united nation. Everyone benefits from giving up discrimination — value added in human talent and participation. And truly, no one is free, including white people, when anyone is oppressed.
It is time time as white people, to look at more than Our story. This is a time of reconciliation. A time of change. Finding a new way of living together, embracing diversity. And really, isn’t it past time? Or, we could continue with…. “Let’s just keep quiet for another 400 years and see if inequality, injustice, and racism will, as we have heard, ‘just magically go away’.”
My years of long riding are filled with continuous examples and lessons of generosity — people who could have easily slammed the door in my face but did not. THEY DID NOT.
Once I rode past a house in mid-construction where several Hispanic workers (I was in Arizona riding the 6000-miles ride) sat taking an afternoon break, eating rice and beans wrapped in homemade tortillas their wives had made, warmed on a Coleman stove. My Spanish was as limited as their English but they so wanted to share food with me and see my horses, that I did stop. Hospitality rolled from their enthusiastic voices, welcoming this stranger.
Or, the time on that very same ride when the Gwinn family invited a pretty shook-up lady long rider into their home near Yakima on the Confederated Tribes & Bands of the Yakima Nation. Days earlier I’d nearly gotten myself killed crossing Mount St. Helens. Seriously dehydrated and shaky, I came walking (with permission to cross their tribal lands) from the west in 90-degree heat when Margre and her daughter Elizabeth stopped on the road. The rest is history for me. The Gwinn family welcomed me into one of the warmest, friendliest, multi-generational families on my rides. Hosting me for the entire week, they fed me, Honor, and Claire, and we set up a bed outside so I could sleep with Claire and Honor in the backyard until I was healthy and strong enough to resume my ride. I mean, how easy would it have been to tell this stupid white girl to keep going. We have not exactly given Native Americans good reason to like us.
AND I will never forget being rescued by the Gonadanegro Family, having been caught in a winter storm while crossing the Alamo Navajo Indian Reservation lands west of Albuquerque on my second ride. Once again, here a complete stranger looking and feeling pretty stupid for getting caught in yet another snow storm, is welcomed into a private home, introduced to other tribal members, fed and kept safe – my horse and dog included – while winter weather dropped over two feet of snow. And I had to think again, would I have offered such hospitality? Would I as a white woman have invited in a person of color that may have made me uncomfortable? Would I have welcomed them into my home for a week? When you are a person who “has” as opposed to one who”has not,” you see the world much differently, and it’s worth considering empathy for all sides.
Angela Bates continues with her work in Nicodemus — continues to educate, continues the struggle to keep Nicodemus’s history alive and available. Angela is one of my dearest friends who has more than once graciously opened her heart to my questions about race issues. She offers insight and understanding to historical events which have consistently brought us again and again to this place of conflict we once again find our country in.
Angela returned an email after I sent my condolences of John Lewis’ passing. I share this with all of you.
“… Yes what a great loss, but his work was done! Others have to emerge in these times. It’s individuals like you who have touched the lives of so many who have the greatest impact, people will listen to you, so speak the truth loud, clear, and wide. Let your voice be heard. Share your thoughts on your site to all that will listen to you.”
White hands must join hands of color in solidarity, welcoming people of any color or creed who come to the door, as you would a lady long rider. We all are just travelers.
Let us fill the Senate and House of Representatives with a colorful diversity that represents the entire nation, and from there form a better union of equality. It is time! Young people are calling for it. The world is calling for it. It is time!
Let’s make this the UNITED States. Let’s find out, “How much more we are.”
I receive occasional posts and letters from other equestrian travelers, and this lady I particularly feel a resonance with as a fellow woman and Fjord traveler. Here is her lovely letter and photos of her and her travelling companions.
Thank you, Marianne van der Weele, for your ever-so-lovely letter!
Just an email to tell you how happy I am to have found your book. I’ve been reading all day and filling up with happy memories.
I am from the Netherlands and in 1984, I set out with a couple of friends, in a horse wagon that they constructed themselves, with a team of Fjord horses.
One of them was rather inexperienced, and here about, there is an awful lot of traffic, so I used to walk by her side and sing to her, for days on end, until finally she settled into the travelling.
Those days, walking beside her, was my “coming into my own skin” as you so beautifully describe it.
We drove all the way to France, where we built another wagon for myself, and I found myself a Fjord horse. She loved travelling, always eager to go, to explore the next step, to meet new people.
You mention so many things in your book that bring images back to mind instantly.
The Trail Angels in all their unexpected forms, the generosity, the openness and friendliness of total strangers. I was 24 at the time, and due to what I experienced in life so far, had not so much trust in others. The years on the road changed that for the better.
The endless number of people that tell you you are living their dream.
The one day I walked into a store and saw someone coming towards me, and I thought, “Wow, she looks pretty wild” before realizing I was seeing myself in a mirror….
After 4 years, I returned to Holland, to live another life. I gave my mare to a man she fell in love with, as there was no denying that, nor the fact that she simply loved being on the road, I know that they travelled on to Spain and were very happy together.
You must get mail like this plenty, but my heart does a little dance and I really want to show you a picture of my Icelandic horse, which I shall attach.
I don’t see her everyday anymore, she’s at a boarding stable, living her very happy life with her friends. I am 60, she’s 31 now, I rode her until last winter and now when we go out I walk alongside her, which is just as well.
I will be following you on facebook and such, thank you for writing your story so honestly.
Hello, hello! A big reminder from me to celebrate Women getting the right to VOTE! 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. I had planned a significant part of this year to be out riding in commemoration of women’s suffrage, as I come from a long line of suffragists. Of course, this ride has been cancelled due to the virus.
Meanwhile, please watch the PBS 4-part series on American Experience. Each PBS station will have different links, dates, and times, so just google, PBS American Experience Vote and you should find it easily. Cheers!
Filmmaker Wren Winfield joins Bernice in celebrating independent women with a 4th-of-July sale on the Lady Long Rider documentary film. July 1st through July 5th, the DVD will be $15 plus shipping.
Click here to purchase. https://www.ladylongrider.com/product-page/lady-long-rider.
This necklace was given to Bernice by school kids attending an outdoor-education camp which she came upon when long riding in Montana in 2017. She added the coins of Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea, and still wears it every day.