Southern Vacation Town MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. Banishes Bikers

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In the midst of a recession and with loads of empty hotel rooms, South Carolina’s vacation hot spot is hanging a “No Vacancy” sign for hundreds of thousands of motorcycle riders who have come here each May.

A publicity drive was launched to let people know the rallies were over: “Effective 2009, Myrtle Beach, SC will no longer host motorcycle rallies,” a city-sponsored Web site read.

Critics say racism has a role in the fight, too, but the black bikers couldn’t be pushed out without going after both groups.

The city has a rough history with the black festival. Three years ago, it settled a discrimination lawsuit with the NAACP after it used different traffic restrictions for the black biker rally. The civil rights organization also successfully sued several restaurants and a hotel, saying they either closed during the black biker week or operated differently.

“I do believe the underlying factor is they really want to get rid of the Memorial Day Bikefest, because it is highly attended by African-Americans,” said Hakim Harrell, organizer of the black rally.

Other motorcycle supporters think the problems are overblown to help golf courses and high-end hotel owners at the expense of smaller operations that made the Grand Strand an affordable vacation.

Tom Rice, a 51-year-old tax attorney who led the anti-rally campaign, discounts the theories and points to the nudity and obscenities, saying they clash with the burgeoning mass of people who call Myrtle Beach home.

And there’s been one unexpected result white and black bikers separated by race and motorcycle style have joined in a common cause.

“We’ve laughed about that, both sides,” Harrell said. “They did something that we all never thought would be possible — that would be the black biking community and the white biking community coming together and being united — standing next to each other and saying we as bikers will not stand for certain things.” Read More

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