For many, a ride across state lines is simply a road trip – a chance to wander to new landscapes and venture to new destinations. However, for Dr. Jennifer Barger Johnson, a legal studies and business law professor at Central, a trip across state lines was a trip of remembrance and a trip to be remembered.
Dr. Barger recently was selected to participate in the 2018 Remember the Removal Bike Ride, which retraces the northern route of the Trail of Tears. The ride spans 19 days, seven states and nearly 1,000 miles. Participants included 18 riders total – 10 selected by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) and eight riders selected by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians (EBCI). Riders are chosen on the basis of their leadership potential, as the program is designed to foster leadership among Cherokee youth. Most riders are between the ages of 16-24, while mentor riders are older than 35.
Alongside Dr. Barger, UCO incoming freshman Emilee Chavez also participated in the ride.
The riders are selected through an extensive interview process. CNO participants are required to complete history, language and culture classes, along with physical training sessions every weekend from January through June, without missing more than two days total. To qualify for the ride, candidates also are required to complete a 70-mile training ride and successfully illustrate competency in their native Cherokee language. As part of this competency, the riders must introduce themselves while speaking Cherokee to public groups, including the CNO Tribal Council.
The inaugural ride was in 1984 but was not revisited again for 25 years. In 2009, the ride became an annual event, and two years later, the EBCI tribe joined the ride.
This year, the ride was in its 10th consecutive year, making it the 11th ride overall. During the ride, the cyclists were accompanied by Jack Baker, a Cherokee Elder, historian and genealogist, who gave them history lessons along the way.
The team visited the Kituwah Mound in the original Cherokee homeland; stopped at unmarked graves of their ancestors; visited New Echota, the former Cherokee capital in present-day Georgia; and experienced Red Clay, which served as a capital-in-exile of the Cherokee Nation when the tribe was forced out of Georgia by legislation. Riders also visited Rattlesnake Springs, an internment camp for Cherokees before the Trail of Tears; experienced the grueling climb up Cumberland Mountain on bike; stopped at Blythe’s Ferry along the Tennessee River, where Cherokee’s gathered during their forced removal; walked parts of the original trail on foot, near Port Royal in Kentucky, Meramac Springs in Missouri, and Pea Ridge in Arkansas; and took time to reflect on their ancestors at Mantle Rock and other historic Cherokee sites.
Dr. Barger was the first female mentor rider and only the second mentor rider to have participated in and completed the ride.