Black Bike Clubs of the USA

In 1959 Tobie Gene Livingston started a Harley-Davidson Club, the East Bay Dragons, in his hometown of Oakland. Soldiers returning from service in the Second World War needed something to get the adrenaline flowing and the Bike Club, with the rush of speed and the feel of the wind in their hair, gave them that. Obtaining bikes was not comfortable as some dealers refused to sell bikes to African Americans. The Harleys they could get their hands on were not the expensive bikes fitted with windscreens and saddlebags, but essential down to earth American bikes.

The Dragons made the unpretentious, standard Harley their bike. The club was founded for African Americans, and no other races could join them. They could not stay away from trouble brought to them by other clubs, who were trying to claim territory for themselves and not tolerating other clubs in their areas. After bloody brawls clubs like the Black Crows, a whites-only club, who were on the receiving end of these fights, realised that they could not win and had to tolerate the Dragons. Livingston and his club members could invade and scare the other towns and their police departments, but they were helpful and friendly to the public in their areas.

The Oakland area was, surprisingly, shared with another notorious gang the Hells Angels. A friendship had developed between Livingston and the Angels president, Sonny Barger. The two clubs joined forces to repel the familiar foe – the police! The media are cashing in on the controversy between the club and the cops and, with negative news and articles the bikers got a terrible name with the public.

Rules of the Club

Livingston set criteria for membership to the club, his colleagues and potential members had to, amongst other regulations, treat their families with respect, hold down jobs and stay drug-free. The club could not always stay out of trouble, but in general, they did a lot of community and charitable work and were recognised by the Oaklands Council who acknowledged Livingston and his club for the good they had done over the years. Livingston, well into his eighties, is still, today, the president of the club.

Colours

The club has its “colours”, black, greasy denim and vests with a green dragon on a gold background with the club name “East Bay Dragons, Oaklands California”.

Meeting Place

The members had a meeting place, an eating house, owned by a member where they met regularly. Other patrons of the restaurant were members of the Black Panthers and the two clubs supported and helped each other. After the Black Panthers disbanded, some of their members joined the Dragons.

Charities

The Dragon’s charitable services included breast cancer, AIDS and violence awareness. Any money raised at the clubs functions would go to school supplies and children’s school clothes, and at Thanksgiving turkeys and other food, amounts are distributed to needy families. At Christmas, toys are collected and delivered on toy rides to needy children with riders dressed in Father Christmas outfits.

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