By David Walters
In 1959 Jim Crow laws were still in effect. Jim Crow Laws wouldn’t be abolished until the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act for discrimination for Public Accommodations. This was the official on the books dates, however restrictive passages could still be found in areas of Los Angeles which had racially restrictive profiling practices that would prohibit Black and Mexican Americans from renting and buying property. They would subjugate them to areas of Watts, South Gate, and Compton in South Central which up until the 40s had been smaller white communities with around a 4% African American population. Biased Real Estate practices would limit opportunities for people of color to own businesses outside of these areas or to attend schools that benefited from more property tax income which were still relatively new (1916ish was the start of real estate property tax as we think of it). This was especially common after the Mass Migration that saw many sharecropper families from the rural south come to Los Angeles to find a new life in the booming shipping, industrial, and Defense contracting jobs at the start of WWII.
In 1965 the Watts riots would see racial tension erupt and 34 people would be dead and close to 50 million in property damage would havoc the neighborhood. Through these tensions, trials, and tribulations, the black motorcycle set was growing and taking shape. We have covered some of the icons of that era, Tobie Gene and the East Bay Dragons, The Rattlers and others. One man riding his chopper into the 60s had a similar desire down in LA. His name was Lionel Ricks. He would become known as “The Father” Lionel Ricks and he is the founded of the Chosen Few Motorcycle Club.
Father Ricks would establish the Chosen Few MC in 1959 with 5 of his friends. Before the end of 1959 the ranks would grow to 7 members and by 1960 they would add an 8th member, White Boy Art, the first white member of the Chosen Few. Chosen Few MC became the first racially integrated 1% Club in the world.
Lionel Ricks was born July 29th, 1937 in Chicago. He grew up an only child. He grew up around a Baptist environment and when asked later why he started the Chosen Few he answered simply “I wanted a family, I wanted Brothers”. He would study much about theology and this enabled him to see his fellow man, not as color, but as humans. Make no mistake though, he understood the times in which surrounded him. He understood the environment in which he moved. He would more than once see his white Brothers “educate” a bartender that refused service to a black Brother and would provide a security escort to white Brothers to during the Watts and Rodney King Riots. He would say that “I love my family, and Brotherhood cannot have stipulations”.
Lionel’s mother and father moved him to California when he was 9, where he lived with his Aunt briefly, before his parents joined him. He would graduate High School in California where he was a gifted athlete as a swimmer and gymnast. His athletic background never left him as those that knew him would rarely see him indulge in anything worse than a hamburger or soda. By 1980 he would be an involved Father to not only the Chosen Few MC but also to 4 of his own kids, 3 daughters and a son. By the time of his passing in 2015, he would be a Grandfather 4 times over and a Great Grandfather.
He was able to bridge color and cultural gaps by bringing people together over the love of riding, Brotherhood and the Motorcycle. He could mix inner city and rural south African Americans together with Asians and Mexicans, and white boys of different Chapters within the Chosen Few. He even had a couple of members with Middle Eastern backgrounds. Before Martin Luther King Jr was a widely known name, Ricks was bringing every walk of life together. He encouraged a member named Sir Thomas, to keep drawing and designing pieces which was an interest of his. One of which would become a tradition within the Chosen Few, Tom would create a plaque with every new member name, and the date he entered into the Club and the plaque he created would be hung on the CH wall. After Sir Thomas’s passing, this tradition is rumored to still go on. The Father would even host a Bible Study group at the Clubhouse in South Los Angeles, religion was something his had learned from his parents and carried throughout his life.
Residents near the Clubhouse on South Broadway would watch as the MC would be forced to leave its long-time residence in late 2012/early 2013 after shady police tactics and reminisce about the safer way the neighborhood was before the MC left. Residents would talk about how the entire neighborhood was covered in graffiti, but nobody would dirty up the Clubhouse outside walls. That on Sundays, area residents could go over and listen to old blues music and eat BBQ for free. Often the residents would find Chosen Few Member Madhouse Buddy, an avid blues musician playing live for them while they ate, and kids played. Before Chosen Few was forced to sell the long-standing Clubhouse, residents would adamant about the close-knit feeling Lionel and the Chosen Few tried to bring to the neighborhood. And not long after that, almost as if the loss of so much history was too much to take, The Father Lionel Ricks passed away on Oct 22nd of 2015. Thousands would turn out to remember him, from the funeral home, to the cemetery route and memorial parties in between, it was easy to tell what he meant to the Bike Set, the community and his Brothers. During the memorial, Tobie Gene would be moved to tears when talking about his final conversation with his friend and about hearing how ill he had become. Two icons in this life, in a life full of extraordinary men.
If you take one thing away from this article, I hope it is the genuine love Lionel Ricks had for his Club and his Brothers. So simple and pure, in an era, and area that saw so much that wasn’t simple and pure. That would see so much turmoil. The Father Lionel RIcks looked to put those he loved, above the negative. To create something for them. His word made you family, and from then on you were never without. As you grow in your Clubs, whatever they may be, I hope you aspire to emulate that, to carry that forward. Also, please, whatever you do, sit down with that founder while you still can, if you can. Talk to that old timer, hear those stories. Take down the words that are safe for print. Pass them to your new Members, Prospects and even Hang arounds, so they understand just what your Club and its history mean.