Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has called on one South Carolina town to end an event for black bikers, but has not opposed a similar so-called “Harley Davidson” biker week that is predominantly white.
During the days of segregation, the town of Atlantic Beach began the Myrtle Beach-area Bikefest, which was one of the few events that allowed African-Americans to congregate. Even today, Atlantic Beach bills itself as “the only Black owned beach in the nation.”
White bikers riding Harley Davidson motorcycles are more likely to come a few weeks earlier for the “Myrtle Beach Bike Week.”
After three people were killed just 14 miles away from Bikefest over the Memorial Day weekend, Haley said that it was time for the African-American tradition to end.
“Eight shootings happened during this weekend. Three people died. That is not OK for South Carolina,” Haley remarked, the Associated Press reported on Sunday. “This Bikefest does not represent the people of this state. It does not represent what we are trying to do when we promote tourism and jobs.”
During a hurricane preparedness meeting in Conway late last month, Haley chastised Atlantic Beach leaders for putting “Myrtle Beach on the front page of USA today in a negative light.”
“It is time for that BikeFest to come to an end, and that is the way I’m going to talk to the elected officials of Atlantic Beach,” she insisted. “I think it’s time for everybody in Horry County to come together to say, ‘No More.’ We are proud of our state. We are proud of the look of our state. We are proud of the actions of our state. We are proud of the people of our state, and the state deserves to be respected and the area deserves to be respected. It’s time for this activity to stop.”
Atlantic Beach residents, however, accused Haley of singling them out because she had not also called to end the larger white biker week that takes place a few miles away just weeks earlier.
“If you’re going to stop the black bikers weekend, you should stop all biker weekends, regardless if nothing happened during that time,” Atlantic Beach resident Jennequa Miller told the AP. “That’s unfair.”
And business people like Atlantic Beach motel owner James Dewitt argued that black biker week has seen few problems historically.
“We’ve had no incidents at all. Not here and I’ve been here 40 years running the motel and 34 years I have seen the bike festival,” Dewitt explained.
Haley spokesperson Doug Mayer insisted that the governor’s position “has nothing to do with what kind of motorcycle a person drives and everything to do with the fact Myrtle Beach had over 4,000 calls for police service, eight separate shootings, and three murders during the course of a Memorial Day weekend.”
The town of Atlantic Beach counts on BikeFest for funding about $60,000 of its yearly $500,000 budget, but Haley has promised to help out financially if the event is banned.
Atlantic Beach Mayor Jake Evans has refused to consider ending BikeFest, saying that the town would “make it better by taking out the bad elements of it” instead.
“This Bikefest means more to us as a tradition just as much as it is the money,” he explained.
Watch the video below from WBTB, broadcast May 30, 2014.
Watch the video below from WMBF, broadcast June 3, 3014.