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The Iron Elite

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By Zack Zupke
Creative Services Manager
VISIT Milwaukee

The Iron Elite. Soldiers and veterans. Business owners. Everyday Joes. Everyday Janes. They’re all Harley riders sharing a common enthusiasm for the ride. And they’re all African Americans. Because of that, they haven’t always been able to share their stories alongside other Harley enthusiasts due to segregation and other forms of discrimination. Now, they’re being heard. Now, they’re right there next to every other rider at the Harley-Davidson Museum in the “Journey of the Iron Elite.”

As a portion of the exhibit explains, “African American riders have a long and proud heritage and continue to make important contributions to the sport and culture of motorcycling. With the help of numerous individuals and clubs, the Harley-Davidson Museum is kicking off a concerted effort to bring these stories, and the objects that tell them all, to the surface.”

On the surface, they look like every other Harley rider. Then you dig a little deeper, read their stories and find they’re much more than men and women on motorcycles. They’re history. Pee Wee and the LA Defiant Ones club in California. William B. Johnson, a mechanic who became the first African American Harley-Davidson dealer known to date. Bike builder Sugar Bear and his “if it ain’t long, it’s wrong” mantra.

World wars to world-renown designs, African American riders have stories to tell, perhaps more so than any other riders. Harley enthusiast or not, you’ll be a human enthusiast after a visit to the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee to see and hear the “Journey of the Iron Elite.”


Harley-Davidson Museum
400 W. Canal St.


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