Black Bike Week
|Black Bike Week|
A custom Suzuki Hayabusa at Black Bike Week
|Date(s)||The weekend around Memorial Day weekend|
|Location(s)||Greater Grand Strand, South Carolina|
Black Bike Week, also called Atlantic Beach Bikefest and Black Bikers Week, is an annual motorcycle rally at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, held on Memorial Day weekend. It is also sometimes called Black Fill-in-the-Blank Week, because it has evolved to attract many non-motorcycling visitors who come for music, socializing and enjoying the beach. Events include motorcycle racing, concerts, parties, and street festivals. Called a "a one-of-a-kind event" and "an exhibitionist's paradise" by Jeffrey Gettleman, Black Bike Week is "all about riding, styling and profiling," in the words of Mayor Irene Armstrong of Atlantic Beach, South Carolina.
It is the largest African American motorcycle rally in the US. 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. Around 10–15 percent of motorcyclists in the US are women, while at major African American motorcycle rallies, such as Black Bike Week or the National Bikers Roundup, women make up close to half of participants.
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 with 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.
The city of Myrtle Beach has used new ordinances to push the 2009 and 2010 motorcycle events, both black and white, out of the city, where they have been welcomed by other municipalities and businesses, and bikers still came in spite of the official efforts to discourage them. After the 2010 motorcycle events the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned the Myrtle Beach city ordinance requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets, and 4 other ordinances.
"Black Bike Week" can also refer to a side event to the motorcycle rally Daytona Beach Bike Week at Daytona Beach, Florida that happens two months earlier, in March. Like the South Carolina event, the Daytona rally also has its origins in racial segregation, when blacks created their own parallel event after being excluded from the main white festival.
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.
The predominately white rally dates to May 1940, when a group of Harley-Davidson dealers created The Piedmont Harley-Davidson Dealers Association which became The Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association when South Carolina dealers joined. The group's first event was a ride to Ocean Drive in Myrtle Beach, and included a drag race and dirt track race and other festivities. In subsequent years the rally was held in Cherry Grove, Jacksonville and Wilmington, North Carolina before returning to Myrtle Beach. The 2009 event was at New Bern, North Carolina, and the 2010 rally is planned for the same location, two weeks before Memorial Day weekend.
Atlantic Beach Bikefest events
The town of Atlantic Beach hosted a street festival title The Atlantic Beach Bikefest, host by NDA Game Entertainment during the Memorial Day Black Bike Week weekend.
Custom motorcycle builders, parts suppliers and motorcycle dealers provide a focal point for activities during Bikefest, displaying their wares and using motorcycle stunt shows or other entertainment to attract crowds. Motorcycle clubs coming together and networking is a large part of the activity as well, described by some participants as, "an event to be recognized" where, "clubs came out to rep their colors," and, "mostly just to have fun."
Past efforts to centrally organize Bikefest events have failed, with the activity remaining mostly spontaneous. Cruising and street parties flourish while people dance in the streets, hug, kiss, and hop on the back of strangers' bikes. Vendors sold food, t-shirts, mix CDs, and offered wheelie rides on customized motorcycles. Live entertainment includes nightly gospel and other music, and daily motorcycle stunt shows.
Attendance at the 2010 Bikefest events held in Atlantic Beach appeared to be up over 2009, with greater variety in entertainment, merchandise and services offered. Atlantic Beach Town Manager William Booker said there are more families with children, and that, "We have a lot more going on in terms of vendors this year, including more people who are selling parts and upgrades for bikes, which is something we're really working to get more of. People are literally getting their bikes worked on today, which hasn't happened a lot in the past."
Charges of racial bias
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.
In a May 25, 2003 article in the New York Times, Jeffrey Gettleman reported that a pattern had emerged of black social and party events growing ever larger in stature and then collapsing and quickly being shut down, particularly in the Southern United States. Examples given included 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 by day before Memorial Day the black rally had seen 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. There were two undisclosed settlements with businesses and the NAACP in 2008. Friendly's Ice Cream Corporation and Myrtle Beach Friends Boulevard LLC was sued in 2008 by the NAACP for closing their indoor area and only offering inferior outdoor service during Black Bike Weeks from 2000–2005.
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.
For the 2010 bike rally, the NAACP continued to monitor police and local businesses for discrimination.
Myrtle Beach ban
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. Vendors, hotels, biker groups and promoters attempted to schedule events for Black Bike Week 2010 despite the Myrtle Beach governments' ban.
The Myrtle Beach budget to fight lawsuits was $350,000 in 2004, increased from $250,000 to $275,000 in previous years because the city knew it would be defending itself against the NAACP lawsuit.
In anticipation of the 2010 Harley Bike Week rally, a local Harley-Davidson dealership said events would still take place for their bike week event, but on a reduced schedule of only 5 days, May 11 to 16, while the web site Myrtle Beach Bike Week, LLC says a full-length rally of May 7–16 would take place. Both sources say there would be no vendors inside the city limits of Myrtle Beach during the Harley Bike Week, and they both encouraged attendees to boycott the city and patronize those communities and businesses outside the city which did support Harley Bike Week.
The Myrtle Beach Convention Center had ceased attempting to find a replacement for the Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association, which had moved to Hard Rock Park. The reason for moving The Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association event to New Bern in 2009 was that Myrtle Beach, "passed all these silly laws, they said we ruined their May, so we talked about it and decided to oblige them," said Gene Lummus, former president of the association.
Helmet law struck down
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 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.
In defense of the ordinance, the city's court filings argued six key points, among them that their helmet law was constitutional and did not contradict the state traffic code. Myrtle Beach's attorney Mike Battle also argued that because the state law was silent on whether adults must wear helmets, only addressing riders under 21, that cities had the freedom to make their own laws with respect to those over 21. Battle also argued that the benefits of the helmet law were greater than the inconvenience.
The ruling prompted speculation that motorcyclists would return to Myrtle Beach in greater numbers. Some motorcycle rally participants immediately booked rooms for the next year, while others vowed never to return to Myrtle Beach, instead favoring businesses outside the city limits.
Noise limit faces lawsuit
Tom McGrath the lawyer who won the helmet law case, filed a lawsuit on the behalf of business owners and residents to remove the noise ordinance passed by the Myrtle Beach government in 2009.
Myrtle Beach City Council relax noise ordinance
Months after Tom McGrath filed a suit on behalf of business owners and residents against the noise ordinance enacted by the city to push away motorcycle rallies, the Myrtle Beach city council increased the noise limit. Motor vehicles were limited to a level of 89 decibels while the engine is running at idle speed, but now motor vehicles may operate as high as 99 decibels which is more in alignment with national standards.
- Urban Beach Week, also on the Memorial Day weekend.
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