By John Lutsch
The name ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ conjures up images of the Old West, where blue-clad cavalrymen galloped from their stockade forts to confront restive Native American tribes. With the clarity of hindsight, the romanticized notions of chivalry and valor associated with the cavalry have become a bit tarnished as awareness has increased regarding the mistreatment of indigenous peoples.
The real Buffalo Soldiers, however, were a largely forgotten group of six African American cavalry and infantry regiments, created by Congress in 1866. Ironically, they were a minority group facing discrimination who were tasked with suppressing another discriminated-against American minority rebelling against life on Indian reservations. They fought their way from West Texas to Kansas, on to Montana, eventually being billeted in San Francisco, where they became acting federal park rangers in the Sierra Nevada. Their exploits are chronicled in the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum in Houston, Texas.
Fast forward to around 1993 in Chicago, where African American police officer Ken Thomas founds the ‘Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club’ to promote a positive image of Black motorcyclists which would counter the prevailing perceptions of motorcycle clubs as ‘gangs’. Members were recruited from active-duty and retired military, law enforcement, and professional groups. The aim was to create not only an active brotherhood of riders, but an organization whose interaction with the community was based on charity, goodwill, and education.
The Buffalo Soldiers quickly grew to become one of the largest African American motorcycle clubs in the United States, with over 5000 members in around 140 chapters. Unusually, women were encouraged to become members in their own right as well.
Gone are the days when Buffalo Soldiers mounted up for adventure in frontier America. Now they straddle their ‘iron horses’ with a different and more positive approach to their mission; to give back to the local community, and to keep alive the memory of those African American troopers who faithfully served their country for nearly a century.
Stay tuned for more information on the Buffalo Soldiers when the Crawford’s exhibit ‘Open Road: The Lure of Motorcycling in Ohio’ begins in Mid-April, 2022.