Milwaukee’s Harley-Davidson Museum
Pays Tribute to Black Riding Culture History
The Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee recently opened an exhibit exploring the evolution of the African American motorcycle culture. Through this exhibit that debuted in February, Harley-Davidson recognized the contributions of African Americans and riding clubs like the Buffalo Soldiers, who helped to create the Harley-Davidson motorcycling experience and culture. The exhibit is now open to the public where you can learn many things about blacks’ relationships with Harley-Davidson and the black riding culture. No visit to Milwaukee is complete without visiting the Harley-Davidson Museum, where blacks are now honoured.
At the Harley-Davidson Museum you can learn about Benny Hardy, a black custom bike builder who helped to create what is considered one of the most famous motorcycles in the world, Captain America that was featured in the iconic motorcycle movie, Easy Rider. On hand for the opening of the Harley-Davidson Museum’s tribute to black riding culture exhibit was Sugar Bear, a man who was taught by Hardy. He also customized his own chopper that was showcased in the main entrance to the museum for the black history exhibit.
Some of the early black riders who were a part of clubs like the Buffalo Soldiers, East Bay dragons and the Chosen Few were also on hand for the opening of the black history tribute. One early rider present was a man that goes by the name of P. Wee, a popular club leader who once had his own shop. “He said he never considered that he would be a part of Harley-Davidson history. He said he just loved the bikes and liked to ride.” Attending this event also were a few female riders who were just as enthused about their Harleys as the men. They told us about the stereotypes they faced as women riders. Despite some of the stereotypes, women are still riding Harleys more and more, and loving it.
The Harley-Davidson Black History museum exhibit includes bikes, documents, photos and memorabilia of Harley-Davidson legendary riders like William B. Johnson, the first African American Harley-Davidson dealer and Bessie Stringfield, the first known African American woman to ride cross-country on a Harley motorcycle in the 1930s and 1940s all by herself. The black history exhibit gives bike enthusiasts and the general public a chance to connect with and understand the black riding culture. Through this exhibit African Americans get to see how they played a part in the history of Harley-Davidson.
The Harley-Davidson brand is indeed the bike of choice for many black riders still today. It is number one motor cycle in terms of sales and popularity among African Americans, who have been riding and forming clubs since motor cycles became popular. The legendary members as well as modern-day members seemed very proud of their Harley-Davidson bikes which many said they would not trade for the world. Some of the early riders have had as many as three or four bikes and still ride today.
"African Americans have influenced and helped shape motorcycle culture throughout our history. Riding culture is seen differently today because of their numerous contributions to it," said John Comissiong, director of African American outreach marketing, Harley-Davidson Motor Company. "We're number one in sales to African Americans, and not only are we very proud of our shared history, we're always looking for new stories to tell."
You can read stories about the black riding culture on Iron Elite, a community section of the Harley-Davidson website showcasing African American rider stories, motorcycle customization and legendary riders. On the site you can also view customized bikes and learn more about key African American motorcyclists who have made significant impacts on the sport of motorcycling. You can also visit the Harley-Davidson site to learn about events that the company supports like Atlantic Beach Bike Week, Daytona Black Bike Week and the National Bikers Round-Up, where thousands of African American riders gather in the spirit of true riding culture.
About the Harley-Davidson Museum
The Harley-Davidson Museum is a reflection of American history and pop culture through the lens of a true American icon and brand. The Museum offers a one-of-a-kind experience for riders and non-riders alike with rare artifacts exhibits and stories. For more information on the Museum's galleries, special events, tickets, hours and more, visit www.h-dmuseum.com.
About Harley-Davidson Motor Company - Harley-Davidson Motor Company, the only major U.S.-based motorcycle manufacturer produces heavyweight motorcycles and a complete line of motorcycle parts, accessories and general merchandise. For more information, visit Harley-Davidson's Web site at www.harley-davidson.com.
Kitty J. Pope