By Dave Walters
Some more of that History you should know.
I love nothing more than the history of the Motorcycle, Riding, and Clubs. I love getting on my bike and seeing people, events, or places that shaped all of it. I love wondering what LA must have been like for the WWII Vets returning home looking for excitement, or how Shrimp Burns managed to avoid all those splinters shooting up at him during a board track race.
I always want to keep learning. I know, that i don’t know, nearly enough. Never stop. As a pretty simplistic white boy, I’m always motivated to learn more about the history and culture of the Black Motorcycle Scene. If you are only interested in the parts that look like you, you really are just missing out.
Previously for this publication i have looked at riders like Bessie Stringfield. The first Black female, and one of the first ever, to criss cross the United States. She did it on a 1928 Scout and before Highways as we know them, were a thing. She road all over the South during a time of Jim Crow laws. I have published on Clif Vaughs and Ben Hardy of EasyRider fame, and Clif, a legendary member of the Chosen Few MC. We have talked about the Movie Glory Road the Black Biker Experience documentary.
William B Johnson is also another historical figure. He was the first black racer in the AMA, and the first to have his own Harley Dealer. Stand by soon for an deserving article of his own. LA’s art museum had some great pieces on Mr. Johnson, Ms. Springfield and some early Black Motorcycle Clubs. I’m not sure if it is still on display, but you can see stills from it, if you look online.
The art exhibit also looks at the influence of the motorcycle in African American culture, and obviously it’s impact on the motorcycle scene. After Bessie in the 1930s, a large influx of riders of all colors explodes after WWII. The first Black Motorcycle Clubs would start to appear as these Veterans returned home. Some had been Tuskegee Airmen who had braved racism and served with immense honor as Pilots of P-51 Mustangs during the war. They returned home to a country that still regarded them as outsiders, and found Brotherhood, accountability, and safety forming MCs. After flying a P-51, the only thing that was even going to come close to satisfying that adrenaline need, was the motorcycle.
In the late 40s and early 50s many of these groups were Drill Teams. They would get together and perform group routines consisting of stunts, maneuvers, races, and trick riding. They would put on these events in their communities. They would hold meets and compete for scores against other black riders.
Bessie Stringfield even founded a Motorcycle Club that could more than hold its own in stunt competitions, it was called the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club, which along with the “Old Burners MC” of Atlantic City, founded by Freddie “Coffee” Carter, (now a Multi-Chapter Club called State Burners MC formed in 1946, Old Burners MC was changed after an out of state run to party with some new Club Brothers.) are two of the oldest Black Motorcycle Clubs founded on Stunt, Drill, and long distance riding.
Mongols’ Defense: A Club Can’t Conspire With Itself . The Jury has the case #SAVETHEPATCH
Many of these early clubs sported full dressers and the idea or “image” that we might associate with Outlaw Clubs would become more prevalent in the mid to late 1950s. In just a 5 year span, the names to be born are legendary. East Bay Dragons, Chosen Few, Richmond Road Runners, and LA’s Defiant Ones. By most accounts, the Fresco Rattlers in early 1955 were the first Outlaw style black Motorcycle Club, preferring more stripped down versions of a Harley over the full-dresser. Late 1955 would also mark the first appearance of the Richmond Road Runners, and not long after, one of the most continuously operated Black Clubs would come out of the Watt’s section in LA, The Defiant Ones, known as the DOs.
The Club’s motto is “The Power of Togetherness” John McCollum , known as PeeWee, was one of the godfathers of black biker culture in Los Angeles, a founding member of The Defiant Ones, and served as the President of The Defiant Ones for many years. Today the Defiant Ones still hold an open house every friday with drinks, food, dancing and brotherhood.
The Fresco Rattlers came out of San Francisco and were founded by James “Heavy” Evans. The Rattlers were originally an all black motorcycle club, but like the Defiant Ones, would become a mixed-race Club. They had a Clubhouse in the FIllmore district of San Francisco and were early day party associates of the legendary Tobie Gene Levingston. The Rattlers were known on occasion to either party with, or mix it up with, other established San Francisco Clubs like the Hells Angels and Gypsy Jokers.
I always enjoy doing articles like this, because while some of the stories of Tobie, Cliff, Lionel Ricks, Ben Hardy, Bessie Stringfield etc, are well known, or maybe something we’ve heard briefly before, getting a chance to learn more, and go more in-depth is always something i want to be able to do. Never stop learning. Never stop appreciating every drop of history you can get your hands on. If you can, please conserve and preserve this history within your own Clubs.
In closing, like i always say, i don’t care what team you root for, shut the fuck up and enjoy history haha. Love ya for taking the time to read.