FLORENCE, S.C. (CN) - Hotels, motels and restaurants in the Myrtle Beach area have discriminated against African-Americans for years by refusing to open during Black Bike Week, the NAACP charges in a pair of federal lawsuits.
The civil rights group contrasts the behavior of defendants Molly Darcy's
on the Beach, a restaurant and bar, and the American Pancake and Omelet House, with their business practices during the annual Harley Davidson Spring Bike Rally, which is attended almost exclusively by white bikers.
Black Bike Week is the only time of year when most of the tourists visiting the popular beachfront destination are nonwhite, according to the NAACP.
"For the past few years, Molly Darcy's on the Beach has refused to serve visitors of Black Bike Week by closing during its otherwise customary business hours," the complaint states. The same is allegedly true of the American Pancake and Omelet House.
Had the establishments been open, class members would have eaten at both establishments, the NAACP said.
Compounding the organization's anger is that fights and skirmishes - including an armed confrontation between Myrtle Beach police and white biker gangs - have occurred during the Harley Week event, but not during Black Bike Week, yet businesses continue to cater to white bikers and refuse to serve black ones.
In 1994, one complaint states, a portion of Ocean Boulevard, a major thoroughfare in Myrtle Beach, was closed for an entire afternoon to control fighting between the Pagans and Hell's Angels motorcycle gangs.
"Despite these problems, resorts and business in the Myrtle Beach area, including Molly Darcy's on the Beach, have continued to offer service and cater to the bikers who attend Harley Week," the complaint states.
From its inception, Black Biker Week has been a more modest - and notably tamer - affair, the NAACP said, with no major skirmishes between police and bikers.
Nevertheless, as the event expanded from tourist sites in nearby Atlantic Beach, S.C., "the leaders of the Myrtle Beach government and hospitality industry - most of whom are white - exhibited overt hostility to the Black Bike Week Festival because it attracted a large number of African Americans to the area during Memorial Day weekend," the complaint states.
In the late 1990s a candidate for mayor, Mark McBride, campaigned on eliminating the event, and after he was elected, lobbied unsuccessfully to have the National Guard deployed during the event.
The city has adopted a "traffic management plan" to limit traffic on Ocean Boulevard where bikers during Black Bike Week gather to view each other's rides.
"The effect of the 'Plan' was to make it more difficult and less enjoyable for tourists and motorcycle enthusiasts to travel along Ocean Blvd.," the complaint states.
"The traffic 'plan' was not originally imposed during Harley Week," the NAACP says. When it was, "the owners and operators of local businesses complained vociferously about the change, and Myrtle Beach lifted the restrictions after only three days," the complaint states. "By contrast, the traffic 'plan' was retained unchanged for Black Bike Week."
The NAACP seeks declaratory judgment and permanent injunctions against discrimination and a minimum award of $5,000 in statutory damages for each class member. The NAACP is represented by Peters Wilborn Jr. with Derfner, Altman & Wilborn of Charleston.