More than 2,100 people have signed a petition seeking to move Atlantic Beach Bikefest to North Carolina, while about 8,500 people have signed a petition saying they want Bikefest to end.
But Atlantic Beach officials say neither scenario has a chance of happening.
“Atlantic Beach’s Bikefest will be Atlantic Beach’s Bikefest, forever,” Mayor Jake Evans said.
Bikefest began in 1979 in Atlantic Beach by the Carolina Knight Riders as a rally for black motorcyclists.
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A petition on Change.org that was created about fourth months ago says the black motorcyclists don’t feel as though their presence – or money – is wanted in the county.
“We are literally fighting with this community to give them our money with law suits to enforce federal civil rights laws,” according to the petition, created by a user named Kane Loc from Baltimore. “This proposal is to move Black Bike Week to the neighboring state of North Carolina. We can make a party anywhere we go and have a less stressful time at it.”
Evans shrugged off the suggestion.
“They can do as they please,” he said. “But they can’t move Atlantic Beach Bikefest to North Carolina because Atlantic Beach Bikefest takes place in Atlantic Beach.”
Violet “Heels” Lucas, a motorcyclist and advocate for biker rights who lives in Georgetown, said many people don’t know the history of the rally.
“The people who are signing that petition need to know the significance and the history behind the rally,” she said. “It was started by a local club in Atlantic Beach. That’s a reunion for them each year. You can’t take someone’s rally away from them.”
Cleo Shields, who was a member of the Knight Riders and one of the founders of Bikefest who still lives along the Grand Strand, said it wouldn’t make sense to move the festival – or cancel it – because of tradition.
“It’s a tradition that happens every year that was started by the old motorcyclists in Atlantic Beach,” he said. “How are you going to take something that was founded on Atlantic Beach and move it someplace else?”
He said he felt the same way about canceling the event all together.
“Canceling the rally, I don’t think it will change anything because [the violence] last year in Myrtle Beach didn’t have anything to do with Bikefest,” he said.
Three people died and seven were injured in eight shootings on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach during Memorial Day weekend last year, when tens of thousands of people come to town to take advantage of a three-day weekend at the beach or participate in events such as Bikefest.
Last year, a Change.org user named John Doe created a petition asking Myrtle Beach to end Bikefest. While rally attendees visit Myrtle Beach, there are no permitted Bikefest, or motorcycle, activities allowed in the city limits during May. About 8,500 people had signed the petition as of Thursday.
“Residents of Myrtle Beach live in fear and are prisoners in their own homes,” the petition reads. “This petition has NOTHING to do with race, but the criminal behavior that flocks into our town for 4 days straight, every year.
“The city/county makes little to no money after all of the clean up, the court costs from arrests, the sheer number of law enforcement that it requires and the countless of businesses that are trashed or robbed from.”
Gov. Nikki Haley said last week – and last year – the state would financially help Atlantic Beach develop the town if town leaders forgo Bikefest. Evans said he did not like that any help offered to the town only is offered if the rally is canceled.
“Atlantic Beach is a town in South Carolina just like any other city or town,” he said. “They should be willing to help us anyway.”
Evans said town officials have begun working to put things in place to redevelop Atlantic Beach, which was once a segregated town.
“There are things we have to have to start develop – to lay the groundwork – before anything major can be done,” he said. “We want major developers to come in, we want to boost our local economy, but I’ve been the mayor for two years. These things take time.”
Evans said he didn’t understand why the town had not received any notice from the state before last year’s violence.
“Our 50th anniversary will be next year,” he said. “Before these people got killed in Myrtle Beach during the weekend that Bikefest is held, we didn’t hear from anyone. It took getting somebody getting killed to offer to help.”
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or on Twitter @TSN_mprabhu.