Hundreds of motorcycles roared through the streets of the District of Columbia Sunday, to honor African-Americans who served and died in the military. Each year, for the past 11 years, members of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club ride their motorcycles to the African-American Civil War Memorial on historic U Street.
The ride, known as Buffalo Thunder, occurs during Memorial Day weekend. Often overshadowed by the hundreds of thousands who ride in Rolling Thunder, Buffalo Thunder is no less significant.
From the Revolutionary War to Afghanistan, African-Americans have fought in every major U.S. conflict.
“It is important to recognize the contributions of black soldiers to freedom in this country and freedom in the world, said Donald Thigpen, Jr., an attorney and organizer of the ride and ceremony.
“We understand Rolling Thunder has existed for years. I used to ride every year in Rolling Thunder, but we wanted to add another ride in the morning where we could demonstrate our appreciation for all those who have ever served and continue to serve our armed forces who were black.”
They honor those like 91-year-old Joseph Hairston, who attended the ceremony across from the African-American Civil War Museum. Hairston was the first African-American helicopter pilot to serve in the Army.
Hairston is a retired captain in the U.S. Army and a former member of World War II’s famed Buffalo Soldiers 92nd Infantry Division. He enlisted in the Army in 1940, despite significant obstacles and quotas that restricted blacks from military service.
For six months, Hairston tried to enlist in the Army but a quota process denied him the opportunity. The 24th Infantry Medical Detachment – the only black medical unit in the Army – finally accepted him. The unit was disbanded a few years later and Hairston applied for officer candidate school. Soon after, he was sent to artillery school and was commissioned as an artillery officer on the same day the 92nd Infantry Division was activated. He was the first black officer assigned to the 92nd Division.
After Buffalo Thunder, the riders gather at the African-American Civil War Memorial for a wreath laying and ceremony. This year, the Memorial celebrates the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT).
On the walls of the Memorial are the names of more than 209,000 members of the USCT, including the name of Jerry Sutton/Suter – a Civil War veteran who has significant ties to first lady Michelle Obama. Sutton/Suter was a member of the 128th Regiment and is the first lady’s great-great-grandfather on her father’s side.
“The blood of freedom falls from generation to generation to generation, and you stand in the shoes of those people who have fought to make this country a better place than it was before,” said Dr. Frank Smith, founder and director of the museum and Memorial.
This article represents original reporting by the author. Follow Don on Twitter @dccityexaminer.