The Whole Story - Black Bike Week History

Black Bike Week The Whole Story

Black Bike Week, also called Atlantic Beach Bikefest, Bike Week and Black Bikers Week, is an annual motorcycle rally at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, held on Memorial Day weekend.  Events include motorcycle racing, concerts, parties, and street festivals. Attendance has been variously reported as 350,000, 375,000, and as high as 400,000. It is considered the third or fourth largest motorcycle rally in the United States.

From 1940 until 2008, Myrtle Beach had also hosted a predominantly white motorcycle rally, called Harley-Davidson Week, also called the spring Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealer's Association (CHDDA) Rally. The two rallies have run back-to-back in the past, and some have charged city government and local businesses of racial discrimination because of different treatment towards the black rally, citing different traffic rules and levels of policing. In 2002 Black Bike week had 375,000 attendees, versus 200,000 for Harley-Davidson Week of the same year.

During the 1960s and 1970s, many black motorcyclists visited Atlantic Beach, South Carolina, some riding Harley-Davidsons, but also riding many Japanese Hondas, Kawasakis, Suzukis, and Yamahas, which, along with race, distinguished them as riders from the white event's participants who preferred the Harley-Davidsons. During the segregation era Atlantic Beach was the only beach in the South where blacks were permitted.

The Black Bike Week rally, originally called the Atlantic Beach Memorial Day BikeFest, was founded in Atlantic Beach by the Flaming Knight Riders motorcycle club in 1980.  The first rally drew about 100 participants. Though one reason the Flaming Knight Riders worked with the City of Atlantic Beach to create the event was to make money for the town, it was not actually franchised by Atlantic Beach, and the city did not benefit financially; instead, bikers would, over the years, congregate more and more in Myrtle Beach rather than Atlantic Beach. In 1982 the Flaming Knight Riders was renamed the Carolina Knight Riders motorcycle club.

By the 1990s the event had grown to include the entire greater Myrtle Beach, or Grand Strand, area. In 2002, Atlantic Beach hired a public relations firm "to make the rest of the country aware of Atlantic Beach, its uniqueness as a predominantly black beach town and its potential as a vacation spot." This was part of a larger effort to promote the motorcycle rally by the Bike Week Task Force, a group of business owners and public officials from around the Grand Strand area.

In 2003 a group of black motorcyclists, and the South Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, sued the city of Myrtle Beach and some businesses there for discrimination. The city was accused of abusing traffic law enforcement and of excessive force by the police to harass black bikers. Many businesses closed their doors or cut back their hours during Black Bike Week, and 28 of them, including Red Lobster and Denny's were named in the suit. A Baltimore, Maryland police detective who is also a motorcyclist told The New York Times, "I've seen it myself. When the white bikers come to Myrtle Beach, the town rolls out the red carpet. When the black riders come, they roll it right up." City officials said that the much younger crowd, and nearly double attendance, of Black Bike Week justified the difference in the city's response to the two events.

The pattern of black social and party events growing ever larger in stature and then having the "cops come down hard core", particularly in the Southern United States has occurred before with Freaknik in Atlanta, Georgia, spring break in Biloxi, Mississippi, and various festivals in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Virginia Beach, Virginia. Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride said in 2003 that the Black Bike Week crowds are "bigger and rowdier," although that year the white Harley rally saw eight motorcycle traffic deaths, while the black rally had only three killed in accidents.

In 2006, the NAACP claimed success in concluding every federal discrimination lawsuit they had filed in Myrtle Beach for complaints during bike week events from 1999–2003, against the City of Myrtle Beach, and restaurants that included Damon's Oceanfront and Barefoot Landing, J. Edward's Great Ribs, and Greg Norman's Australian Grill, as well as the Yachtsman Resort Hotel. In a settlement with the city, the police department was required to use the same traffic pattern on the city's main boulevard for Black Bike Week as they did for Harley Bike Week.

From 2005 through 2008 the NAACP carried out "Operation Bike Week Justice" in which a complaint hotline was operated, and teams monitored police treatment of African Americans, and the reaction of local businesses, as well as monitoring traffic patterns.

The Yachtsman Resort Hotel had required Black Bike Week guests to sign a thirty-four rule guest contract, prepay for their hotel bill and show photo ID. The NAACP won a US$ 1.2 million settlement, and in addition to the monetary payment, the hotel agreed to future discounts and a mandate for policy changes including yearly anti-discrimination training for employees.

In 2008, the Myrtle Beach City Council announced it would no longer host motorcycle rallies, and approved a set of ordinances on September 23, 2008 that attempted to make Black Bike Week impossible. Fifteen laws were passed, restricting muffler noise, requiring helmets within city limits, limiting parking to two bikes per space, restricting loitering in parking lots, and more. In spite of this, Black Bike Week 2009s' attendance was only reduced slightly "250,000 2009 vs 300,000 in 2009". Vendors, hotels, biker groups and promoters are attempting to schedule events for Black Bike Week 2010 despite the Myrtle Beach governments' ban.

For the 2010 bike rally, the NAACP continued to monitor police and local businesses for discrimination.

The state Supreme Court had heard arguments on February 3, 2010 in a lawsuit by two groups of plaintiffs seeking to overturn the ordinance. One group of plaintiffs was made up of 49 motorcyclists who had been cited for not wearing helmets in Myrtle Beach. The second plaintiff was the organization Business Owners Organized to Save Tourism (BOOST) along with South Carolina State Representative Thad Viers. BOOST's mission includes ending "the practice of ‘selective tourism,’ whereby government entities and/or organizations welcome some individual and group tourists but discourage others." Viers, a Republican representing Myrtle Beach, said, "There's certain things cities can do, and making up their own traffic laws is not one of them. I believe the law and the constitution are on our side."

During the hearing in February, Justice Don Beatty said to Mike Battle, Myrtle Beach's lawyer, that, "I realize the issue is narrow here, but don’t pretend like we don’t know what’s going on. We read. We all know why the city," passed the ordinances, questioning whether the intent of the law was not to promote safety but rather to curtail motorcycle rallies. Justice Costa Pleicones told Viers that the city's interest in regulating noise, lewd behavior and nuisances was legitimate.

On June 8, 2010 the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned a Myrtle Beach city ordinance requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets, on the grounds that the state law, requiring helmets only for riders under age 21, cannot be preempted by a city ordinance. The court ruled unanimously that in addition to the priority of state law, the local ordinance created undue confusion for motorists, and that the city itself had invalidated their helmet ordinance and some other ordinances also passed to suppress motorcycle rallies, in a subsequent amendment. The ruling took effect immediately, requiring that pending citations be dismissed, the records of those cited under the ordinance be expunged, and all fines collected be returned.

The ruling prompted speculation that motorcyclists would return to Myrtle Beach in greater numbers in 2011. Some motorcycle rally participants immediately booked rooms for the next year, and Party promoters immediately starting advertising shows and event.

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