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Buffalo Soldiers motorcycle club rides for WW II veteran, nearly 100

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Bikers roar into town for day with Raymond Shelton / August 11, 2014
A 100th birthday calls for a special salute — and what better way to celebrate than to have a motorcycle parade with some 100 bikes roaring through town?

It happened Saturday in South Boston, with an especially fitting touch: the birthday honoree is Raymond Shelton, one of the oldest living Buffalo Soldiers from World War II, and the motorcycle-riding celebrants were members of the Buffalo Soldiers and Troopers Motorcycle Club (NABSTMC), with a chapter in Clarksville.

The event, one of many planned to celebrate Shelton’s 100th birthday later this month, took place at his favorite restaurant, Hardee’s in downtown South Boston. There Shelton was joined by at least 100 friends, some of whom he never met, but with all whom he shares an emotional bond: the Buffalo Soldier heritage. Although still spry at age 99, Shelton does not ride a motorcycle.

The Buffalo Soldiers and Troopers Motorcycle Club (NABSTMC) is a national organization formed to pay tribute to the African-Americans soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry, the 24th and 25th Infantry (formed from the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Infantry), and the 92nd Infantry, formed later in the war.

Shelton was a member of the 92nd Infantry, an all-black unit of Buffalo Soldiers during WWII. At 100, Shelton is possibly the oldest living original Buffalo Soldier in Virginia and the U.S.

Shelton is an honorary member of the Clarksville club of NABSTMC.

The revelers, who hailed from all eight motorcycle club chapters in Virginia, as well as one chapter in Maryland and two in North Carolina, rode for hours in the pouring rain Saturday morning to honor Shelton, and also to raise money for other causes championed by the NABSTMC.

Proceeds from Saturday’s bike ride to The Spot in Danville will help to pay for the official celebration of Shelton’s 100th birthday, set for Aug. 22 at Grace Baptist Church in Virgilina.

Proceeds also will go to charities supported by the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club to treat autism, feed the homeless, award scholarships for graduating high school seniors and support the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

When asked why club members ride, local chapter president Christopher “Grave Digger” Terry (he likes to use his biker name when involved with NABSTMC activities) said, “It’s all about helping each other. With us [the Clarksville branch] we mainly support the elderly and local youth, raising money for them and with scholarships, but we’re there for each other.”

At Hardees on Saturday morning, it was all about Shelton. Sitting in his favorite booth — Shelton regularly eats breakfast at the Wilborn Avenue location — he was mobbed by club members who wanted to pose with him for pictures and ask for his autograph. The smile on his face gave away that he was enjoying every minute of his celebrity status.

The NABSTMC is not your typical motorcycle club: “We take our club and membership seriously,” said Robert Branch, Virginia State president who rode down from Petersburg for the day. Every member, regardless of whether they ride, is dedicated to the pursuit of motorcycle riding. At the same time, members are involved in charitable and good works in their neighborhoods and are “all about educating the public about the accomplishments of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers” or as he calls them “the forgotten soldiers.”

The colors worn by the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club members, black and gold, represent a long history and, the members will tell you, they are worn with pride and respect. They are a badge of courage, sacrifice and honor, meant to honor Buffalo Soldiers of the past as well as those who continue to serve.

An act of Congress, in 1866, created six all African-American peacetime army units. The units, comprised of former slaves, freedmen and black Civil War soldiers, were identified as the 9th and 10th cavalry and the 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st infantry regiments. The four infantry units were reorganized in 1868 as the 24th and the 25th infantry. Their main charge was to protect settlers as they moved west and to support the westward expansion by building the infrastructure needed for new settlements to flourish.

How these men came to be known as Buffalo Soldiers has been lost to time, but there are three plausible stories. One theory is that the curly hair of the soldiers reminded the Native Americans, who purportedly assigned the moniker to these troops, of the buffalo. Another is that the name was because the men wore thick coats of buffalo hide during winter. The third, and most commonly accepted theory is that the combat prowess, bravery, tenaciousness, valor, and looks of the black soldiers on the battlefield, inspired the Indians, out of respect, to call them “Buffalo Soldiers.”

Buffalo Soldiers participated in many other military campaigns: The Spanish American War, the Philippine Insurrection, the Mexican Expedition, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War.

The NABSTMC began in Illinois in 1993, when Kenneth “Dream Maker” Thomas formed the first club for the purpose of fostering unity and fellowship with motorcyclists in the Chicago area. Six years later, during the National Bikers Roundup in Greenville, S.C., Hill said the national organization was formed, uniting clubs from six states, Virginia, Illinois, Maryland, Florida, Delaware and New Jersey. Today, the NABSTMC is one of the largest African-American motorcycles clubs in the country, with several thousand members in 102 chapters in the USA, and two in Canada.

Their objective, according to the NABSTMC web page, is “to educate those that are unfamiliar with the racism, sacrifices and hardships that the Buffalo Soldiers had to endure. Our vision is to instill this knowledge into the minds and hearts of our youth of today so that we can motivate them to become better citizens and leaders of tomorrow. We feel by doing this the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers of the past will live on forever and shall not be forgotten.”

At the appointed hour, 11 a.m. Darrion Snead II, the ride captain assembled the riders. A blessing was delivered by Rev. Andre Williamson, of Ebenezer CME, and the Buffalo Soldiers returned to the pouring rain for their ride to Danville.

Before riding off, “Grave Digger” Terry thanked Hardees manager Doris Logan and the staff of the restaurant for welcoming the Buffalo Soldiers and Troopers Motorcycle Club.

Watching them go, Shelton said after all this excitement he needed a rest, perhaps “a trip to Hawaii to watch some hula girls.”

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