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BLACK HISTORY MONTH

Bicyclist Kittie Knox refused to let racism block the path to her passion

Cycling pioneer Kittie Knox lived near the corner of Irving and Cambridge streets in the West End in the 1890s.Smithsonian Libraries/Lorenz Finison

This Black History Month, the Globe is saluting people from Massachusetts who have made a difference.

Katherine “Kittie” Knox would often put on pantaloons she made herself — not yet a common sartorial choice for women at the end of the 19th century — and climb onto her bicycle.

Bicycling was then considered something white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant men did. Knox, a seamstress who grew up in the West End, was born in 1874 to a Black father and white mother.

Still, she rode her bike, entering cycling competitions, completing 100-mile rides, and placing 12th out of 50 in one major national race.

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Knox was a member of the Riverside Cycle Club, then Boston’s only Black cycling group. In 1893, she joined the National League of American Wheelmen, a year before the league passed a color bar excluding Black people.

The white members who opposed inclusion of Black people were outraged when Knox arrived at the league’s 1895 national meet in Asbury Park, N.J.

“Miss Knox did a few fancy cuts in front of the clubhouse and was requested to desist,” The New York Times wrote at the time.

Kittie Knox was featured in the February 1895 issue of “The Bearings,” published by the Cycling Authority of America.Smithsonian Libraries and Archives

Though she presented a valid membership card, Knox was rejected. She told other league members that no one had ever opposed her presence in league meetings because of her race and walked out with her bicycle “defiantly,” a San Francisco newspaper noted.

Some members of the league’s Massachusetts delegation intervened, arguing Knox was admitted before the league began discriminating over race. But some white members remained angry, threatened to quit, and walked out of a dance Knox attended.

Knox died at age 26 of kidney disease. She is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, where a new headstone was dedicated in 2013 after author Lorenz Finison came across her story and tracked down living relatives.

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The headstone is adorned with a carved-out image of a bicycle.

A dedication ceremony was held at the Mount Auburn Cemetery in September 2013 for a monument to Kittie Knox. After the ceremony, descendants of Knox posed for a photo around the headstone.Jim Davis
Kittie Knox.

Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at gal.lotan@globe.com or at 617-929-2043.