The History of Black Bike Week in Myrtle Beach by

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When it comes to Black Bike Week History, there are two parts to the conversation in Myrtle Beach. The first part is referred to as the Spring Rally or Harley-Davidson Week. The second part of is reserved for Black Bike Week, previously called the Atlantic Beach Bikefest, and Memorial Day Bikefest. These rallies have always run back-to-back historically, with Black Bike Week held in Atlantic Beach just a few days after Harley Week.

Black Bike Week was founded by the infamous Flaming Knight Riders motorcycle club in 1980 — before the fall of their icon Leroy Bolden aka King Dragon — who changed their name in 1982 to the Carolina Knight Riders.

Black Bike Week is reported to draw crowds in excess of 400,000 people to the area though it is hard to distinguish them from the crowd of spring breakers who have recently been in Myrtle Beach during the same time. This explosion of visitors happens every year for an extended weekend of motorcycle racing, concerts, parties, and street festivals. Alone, it would be considered the third largest motorcycle rally in the entire country after Sturgis and Daytona. But when combined with Myrtle Beach’s Harley Week it has arguably more people than any other city.

Defining Moments

Since it started in 1940 during a time of vast racial inequality, it is no surprise that the Spring Rally, referring to the Myrtle-Beach-held Harley-Davidson Week, was a predominantly white motorcycle event.

During the 1960s and 1970s in the thick of segregation, many of the Black motorcyclists – having been turned away from Harley Davidson Week – turned to Atlantic Beach because it was the only beach in the entire southern United States where Black families were welcomed and not banned.

Atlantic Beach had a rich culture formed by the Gullah Geechee people, descendants of the slaves who lived on islands down the east coast between Wilmington, North Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida. Today, it still remains the only Black owned beach in the entire US.

Black, Hispanic, and Asian riders – along with other marginalized groups – chose bikes of different makes and models to distinguish themselves from other riders. A few of them still rode Harley-Davidsons, but many of them were riding Japanese Hondas, Kawasakis, Suzukis, and Yamahas.

In more recent years, Black Bike Week has had nearly double the number of visitors of Harley-Davidson Week. Harley Week reportedly draws crowds between 200,000 and 275,000 people. The boom in Black Bike Week’s numbers has led to some tension in the Myrtle Beach area. Some visitors have even charged city government and local businesses of racial discrimination because of the different treatment toward attendees of the Black rally, citing different traffic rules and drastically different levels of policing.

Black Bike Week Beginnings

Photo from The U.S. National Archives [Public domain] “Black Residents…Check Out A Motorcycle” Photographer: White, John H

The Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest was founded by the Flaming Knight Riders motorcycle Club back in 1980. It was small at first, drawing only about 100 participants, give or take a few. The motorcycle club’s primary goal was to generate money for Atlantic Beach, but it was not actually franchised by the town, which eliminated any possible financial benefits.

Instead, Black bikers would congregate more and more over the years in Myrtle Beach rather than be confined to Atlantic Beach like they had been for so long.

The event gradually expanded outside the city of Myrtle Beach throughout the Grand Strand area as the locals call it. Black Bike Week became a really big deal, and in 2002, the city of Atlantic Beach finally started to recognize its potential. And they employed an entire team to make sure the rest of the country knew just how big it was too.

The one-of-a-kind appeal of Atlantic Beach as a predominantly Black beach town, and the only Black-owned beach town in the country was highlighted. Their efforts really paid off. Since then, Atlantic Beach has become the most visited beach by African-American families. This was one part of a a larger effort made by a group of Atlantic Beach business owners and public officials from around the Grand Strand area to promote the motorcycle rally.

The City of Myrtle Beach Admits to Discrimination

In 2003, a group of Black motorcyclists accompanied by the South Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sued the city of Myrtle Beach and some businesses there for discrimination. The city had been accused of abusing traffic law enforcement and using excessive force by police officers to harass Black bikers with the intent of discouraging future visits.

Many businesses in the area closed their doors or cut back their normal hours during Black Bike Week. There were 28 businesses in the area that were caught doing this, including Red Lobster and Denny’s who were named in the suit.

An motorcyclist, who also happened to be a police detective from Baltimore back then, was interviewed by the New York Times. His testimony was an echo of the complaints voiced by many other riders. It became common knowledge that, when the White riders have their rally, the town shows them respect and makes them feel welcome. But when the Black riders come, they receive the opposite.

City officials actually acknowledged and agreed that there had been a difference in the way the two events were treated, but they thought the inequality was justified. They argued that the much younger crowd and the higher volume of attendees justified the difference in treatment and policing.

“Black Bikers in Traffic” Photograph by Sean Hopson

Like A Broken Record

This has been a pattern, primarily and most obviously in the south, of having the cops bring down the hammer, when Black social events and party events grow larger in stature. It has happened on multiple occasions in other cities: Freaknik in Atlanta (discontinued), Spring Break in Biloxi (discontinued), and many of the festivals in New Orleans, and Virginia Beach.

Myrtle Beach former mayor Mark McBride was quoted in 2003 saying the Black Bike Week crowds are “bigger and rowdier” as a justification for different treatment. Although, during that year the Harley rally saw more than double the amount of motorcycle-related traffic deaths (8), than the Black rally (3).

Festivals and events of this kind have made a resurgence with the younger generation, though most of them are centered around live music. There is Rolling Loud, Lollapalooza, and Coachella to name a few. And they bring out the largest icons in the music industry, but none of them cater to the motorcycle community like Black Bike Week. So, the attendees of the Atlantic Beach Bikefest are fighting to keep their events alive and thriving because there is no real alternative for them.


The NAACP claimed victory in 2006 with every federal discrimination lawsuit they had filed against the city of Myrtle Beach for events from 1999-2003. The restaurants on their list included: Damon’s Oceanfront and Barefoot Landing, J. Edwards Great Ribs, Greg Norman’s Australian Grill, and the Yachtsman Resort Hotel. They settled with the city, and the police department had to use one single traffic plan that covered both Bike Weeks (Harley Week and Black Bike Week) fairly and equally.

Between 2005 and 2008, the NAACP launched a complaint hotline and named it “Operation Bike Week Justice” in which anyone could call for assistance. They have since motored police treatment of African-Americans, reactions of local businesses, and monitored traffic patterns.

The Yachtsman Resort Hotel had previously made all Black Bike Week guests to sign a guest contract with thirty-four specific rules only applicable to Black Bike Week guests. They also had to prepay for their hotel bill. They were also forced to show photo ID. The NAACP won $1.2 million in a settlement because of these actions, and in addition to the money, the hotel agreed to future discounts and a mandate for policy changes, plus yearly anti-discrimination training for all employees.

“Black Bike Week Merchandise: Ankh Necklace and African Beaded Jewelry” Photograph by Sean Hopson

The Aftermath

In 2008, the Myrtle Beach City Council announced that there would be no more motorcycle rallies in Myrtle Beach. They approved a set of ordinances on September 23, 2008 in an attempt to make it impossible for Black Bike Week to occur. There were fifteen new laws passed that placed restrictions on muffler noise, requiring all riders to wear helmets within city limits, and limiting parking to two motorcycles per space. They also banned or restricted loitering in most parking lots, and more.

This was a change in position by the city. For the first time, they showed that they were so eager to get rid of Black Bike Week, that they would do so even if it meant Harley-Davidson Week was a casualty of that war. In spite of these challenges, Black Bike Week 2009 still maintained strong attendance. So, all the vendors, hotels, biker groups, and promoters went back to their regularly scheduled program organizing events for 2010.

During the 2010 Black Bike Week rally, the NAACP continued to keep a watchful eye on police and local businesses for instances of discrimination.

The state Supreme Court heard arguments on February of 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. A Republican representing Myrtle Beach, said that there are certain things cities can do, but making up their own traffic laws is not one of them.

During the hearing, 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 stifle the motorcycle rallies. The city’s interest in regulating noise, lewd behavior and nuisances was deemed legitimate.


In June 2010, the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned a Myrtle Beach city ordinance requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets, because the state law, requiring helmets for young riders only (riders younger than 21 years of age), cannot be undermined by a city ordinance. The court ruled unanimously that in addition to the priority of state law, the local ordinance just created unnecessary confusion for motorists, and that the city itself had actually invalidated their helmet ordinance (among others) to suppress motorcycle rallies.

The ruling took effect immediately. The city had to dismiss all pending citations, the records of those cited under the ordinance had to be be expunged, and every single fine that had been collected until that point had to be returned to its sender. Boom!

The ruling inspired motorcyclists to return to Myrtle Beach in even greater numbers in 2011. They wasted no time. Riders immediately booked rooms, and party promoters had advertisements out not long after for new shows and events.

NAACP Files Another Suit Against Myrtle Beach: 2018

Attendance has continued to hold strong in recent years, but not without resistance. After a shooting incident (almost 15 miles away from the rally’s location) that resulted in 3 deaths was falsely credited to the 2014 rally, the city had all the ammunition they needed to impose their will on Black Bike Week. The city implemented a 23-mile traffic loop for Bike Week that is not used during any other time of the year.

The NAACP recently decided to sue the city of Myrtle Beach again. They initially tried to find a way to resolve it outside of the courtroom, but after three years of little to no progress, a lawsuit was filed in 2018. Click the button below for more…

Read more shocking details surrounding this lawsuit

A message from the leaders of the NAACP said if any members of the public have complaints or concerns (from this year, or from the past) they would love to hear from you. If you have experienced racial discrimination or witnessed racial discrimination and/or had problems with the 23-mile traffic loop while visiting Myrtle Beach during Memorial Day Weekend, please let them know by calling the NAACP Complaint Hotline at 1 (888)-362-8683.

Black Bike Week Daytona

If you love Black Bike Week, check out the Daytona Beach version!

Catch a quick glimpse of the Black Bike Week in Daytona Beach in the video above. The Daytona Beach crowd is a very friendly bunch, and their number one priority is community together to have a good time. If you’re looking for the turn-up Myrtle Beach is for you, but if you just want to kick it while checking out the bikes and enjoying the vibe, don’t sleep on Daytona! And look no further than to keep you in the loop!

Black Bike Week in Daytona