Roll, Colorado, Roll: Rowing Dock Makes Waves With Black Austin Tours
Javier Wallace teaches Austinites about the connection between the Colorado River and Black history
Roll into Austin-based water sport-rental company Rowing Dock, and you'll find a new tour titled "Roll, Colorado, Roll." The name is a reference to "Roll, Jordan, Roll," the spiritual created by enslaved African Americans in the 19th century that was a coded promotion of self-emancipation by waterway to Northern states. On the tour, you'll learn how the Colorado River was used as a means of escape for slaves, not north, but south into Mexico.
Dr. Javier Wallace, founder of Black Austin Tours, has collaborated with Rowing Dock to create a guided history tour on Lady Bird Lake that gives context to the Colorado River's ties to Black history in Central Texas. On the tour, Wallace asks his students to imagine themselves in a time when the river was used not primarily for recreation but as a means of transportation and export of both goods and people. "It's a lot of imagining and pedaling," Wallace jokes. "It's a little bit of a workout." (Less aerobic Black Austin Tours currently offered include historical walking tours of Downtown and East Austin.)
In February, Rowing Dock General Manager Lindsay Rohler approached Wallace after she saw a video he posted to Instagram for Visit Austin. In the video, Wallace speaks about the trafficking of Black Austinites' ancestors across the Colorado River. He has a strong personal connection to the river, as his own family was trafficked into Mexican Texas in the 1830s.
Wallace says Rohler was shocked that it was her first time hearing about the Colorado River's deep racial history, which prompted her to ask Wallace to lead a tour on the water as an opportunity for the company to not only amplify a Black voice and business but also to give back to a community that suffered on the same body of water that she had profited from. Wallace, in response, was not as enthusiastic as Rohler.
"In my head, I'm like, 'No,'" Wallace said, "Because I don't do water ... I love the river, but from afar." Rohler told him not to decline the offer until he came out to Rowing Dock himself and they attempted to get him comfortable in the water. Wallace made the trip to Rowing Dock, put on four life jackets, and had a revelation on the river.
"My mind was able to flow," Wallace said. "So, I'm really seeing history come alive ... everything came alive. It was like I was hearing the peoples' voices that I was reading about." Wallace decided that he had an obligation to share this experience with others, and got to work creating what would become the "Roll, Colorado, Roll" tour. At a time when critical race theory is under attack by the looming goons in the Texas State Capitol building, it's more important now than ever to educate yourself about the people who were forced to build this country.
Tickets to “Roll, Colorado, Roll” can be booked through Black Austin Tours’ website. 100% of proceeds go to Black Austin Tours.