It’s a barrier busting term that ensures a level playing field for the various ethnic groups that make up this melting pot we call America. What was at one time – and still today for some – practiced by force has now become second nature for many major US corporations. More businesses are making sure the black dollar is respected and appreciated for helping to strengthen their bottom lines; Harley-Davidson can be counted among that group.
When you think Harley, you don’t typically think black. That beefy, bearded white guy wearing dark shades and leather that the name is likely to conjure up isn’t solely representative of the company’s customer and enthusiasts base. Harley actually has a very rich history with African Americans, including the compelling stories of historic black bikers such as luminaries William B. Johnson, Bessie Stringfield and Benny Hardy, whom all broke through tough barriers to join what the company has deemed “The Iron Elite.” Harley’s top brass took advantage of Black History month to step up their efforts in sharing theirs and the stories of other pioneering and current black riders that are obviously of importance the company’s legacy.
Executives at Harley-Davidson, headquartered in Milwaukee, invited a select group of black press out to experience Harley culture from the black perspective earlier this month, including the introduction of its Milwaukee-based museum’s newly opened African American exhibit. It was the highlight of the excursion. Along with the exhibit experience, we were immersed in three days of riding culture presented by the company’s passionate team. From the motorcycle boot camp to the guided Harley museum and manufacturing facility tours, participants were given a crash course in why bikers love to ride and why Harley is the brand to beat, even among African Americans.
The experience shed light on why there’s been a steady uptick in black ridership over the years. They’ve all been inspired by fore”riders” such as those mentioned above, as well as current elite riders such as LA-based enthusiast and customizer, Sugar Bear.
“I started in ’71 and everybody in my area were riding … I made it my life’s hobby. Once you’ve thrown your leg over a motorcycle and start riding, it’s like you’re transformed back into the old west and you feel like you’re a cowboy or something, lots of freedom. You feel unencumbered and you’re out in the open. You get all the smells from the countryside … it’s exhilarating,” says Sugar Bear about his affinity for riding.
According to riders like Sugar Bear, biking clubs are prestigious organizations “that signify family, rich history, and free-spiritedness.” They ride with pride and have been doing so throughout Harley history.
“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.”
The company has also incorporated a special interactive section of their website dedicated that history, as well as new stories from black riders.
Also part of the press junket experience, Harley executives used the gathering of influential black journalists as an opportunity to introduce the latest addition to its Hog family, the Harley-Davidson Seventy-Two and the Harley-Davidson Softail Slim.
Visit www.harley-davidson.com for more history on Harley-Davidson and how blacks have embraced the iconic brand and culture.