WDET’s series CuriosiD recently examined the history of Black motorcycle clubs in the Motor City.
But the image some people have of bikers as being tough and hard-edged ignores one group of riders in Detroit known for going out of their way to give back to the city.
The Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club, named for the mostly Black U.S. Army regiments of the mid-1800s, has chapters across the country, including in Michigan.
Zo Hall, an early member of the Buffalo Soldiers’ Detroit chapter, said the club was founded in Chicago during the early 1990s by a rider nicknamed “Dreammaker,” who had a vision of using motorcycles as a force for good.
“Dreammaker’s idea at that time was, he wanted a progressive motorcycle club that was a role model for the youth in the city,” Hall said. “And we also wanted to do more than just ride around. So we go to schools, churches, help the community as much as we can.”
Hall says the group participates in a wide variety of events and programs to support area youth, including “adopting” families during the holidays, supporting charity groups and scholarship programs, and participating in school visits, honor guard ceremonies, historical education presentations about the 9th and 10th Cavalry and more.
“We do quite a bit,” he said. “We’ve got an extensive list.”
Listen: WDET’s Quinn Klinefelter speaks with Zo Hall, member of the Buffalo Soldiers’ Detroit chapter, about the MC
To Hall, the MC’s name and mission carries a legacy of being community protectors. For example, he said, the Tuskegee Airmen — the first Black military aviators in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II — would go out and feed the neighborhood in Italy because they didn’t have any food.
“They would share their food from the Army and the Air Force,” he said. “That’s why we do it. We’re used to giving back. And that’s how we do the mission. The mission is to ride, to give back and to educate.”
The term “Buffalo Soldiers” was coined many years prior to World War II, dating back to the post Civil War era when Black regiments played a key role in the nation’s western expansion by protecting settlers, establishing forts, chartering new travel routes and driving cattle.
“Our motorcycles are used to represent the 9th and 10th Cavalry because they had horses,” said Hall. “With our iron horses, we’re able to get around more than regular horses can. We have the numbers to do it. And also the fact that that’s what the Buffalo Soldiers did, they gave back.”
While there are many motorcycle clubs that operate within the metro Detroit area, Hall says other local MCs respect the Buffalo Soldiers and at times have coordinated community events or educational programs together.
“We just had our first annual Black and Yellow picnic this year, which was awesome,” he said, adding that black and gold are the MC’s national colors. “We invited I think it was five other different clubs that had similar colors. And we had a gathering there with no problems. That’s what we do.”
Hall joined the club’s Detroit Chapter after being drawn in by the character of the few members riding at the time, he said.
“They had so much confidence and how they rode and how they held themselves,” he said. “They really looked like they had their stuff together. So you want to be a part of that, a part of something that’s positive.”
A biker for about 30 years, Hall says the act of riding itself is like a form of therapy.
“You ever heard of wind therapy? When you’re stressed, you get on that bike and all you’re worried about is just you and getting out there and being free. That’s one of the main reasons to ride,” he said.
Hall said his 2016 Honda Gold Wing has about 88,000 miles on it, “more than some people do in a car.” He prefers long-distance trips over riding in the city, which bodes well for the many cross-country rides Buffalo Soldier chapters take part in to help generate funds for individual chapters.
“As we gather along the country, we visit other chapters, right? And that generates funds for their chapters,” he said. “So I may go to New Jersey and I will help them out just by visiting them, by donating to whatever their cause is.”
In Detroit, Hall said, the MC is working on toy drives, participating in Meals on Wheels, feeding the homeless, and taking up other local initiatives to support metro Detroiters in need.
“We’re pretty much invested into the community.”