MYRTLE BEACH — As thousands of black bikers arrive on the Grand Strand for the annual Memorial Day weekend Atlantic Beach Bikefest, the NAACP has sued four local restaurants claiming discrimination during previous festivals.
The lawsuits filed in federal court this week are similar to two suits filed a year ago at this time — one of those against Myrtle Beach and Horry County, a second against a local hotel. Those cases aren't expected to go to trial until next year.
The new lawsuits filed this week claim the restaurants closed in the past during the black biker rally to avoid serving blacks.
In all the suits, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says black bikers are treated differently than white bikers attending the Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association Myrtle Beach Rally, which is held earlier each May.
The Harley-Davidson rally draws about 200,000 to the 60-mile Grand Strand. The Atlantic Beach Bikefest attracts as many as 350,000 to 60 blocks of beach, Myrtle Beach officials have said.
The Grand Strand is the 60 miles of beaches from Georgetown to the North Carolina state line. Atlantic Beach is a small, predominantly black community between Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach.
The suits filed this week name as defendants J. Edwards Great Ribs & More and Fleming's, both owned by J. Edward Fleming. Also named are Damon's Grill and Greg Norman's Australian Grille.
"I think it's ridiculous," Fleming told The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News. "I think they are the racists and they are out of line."
He said he plans to talk to the other restaurants about fighting the lawsuit.
It was unclear whether his restaurants would be open this weekend. There was no answer at either establishment Friday afternoon.
Greg Norman's will be open this weekend, the newspaper reported. A manager at the restaurant refused to comment when reached by The Associated Press.
Brad Ritter, a spokesman for Damon's, said the company has not seen a copy of the lawsuit and could not comment.
But he said that, for the first time in 10 years, its North Myrtle Beach location will be open this Memorial Day weekend because of changes in traffic patterns this year. In the past, he said, congestion prevented employees and guests from reaching the restaurant.
"We welcome the business this event brings to Myrtle Beach and we hope that these traffic pattern changes will allow us to serve both visiting and local guests," Ritter said.
Officials don't think tourism will be affected by the new round of lawsuits.
"It appears the weekend will be busier than most," said Brad Dean, the president and chief executive of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. "The weather is a big part of that, but it doesn't look like lawsuits or boycotts are really having much of an impact on tourism."
The NAACP claims the restaurants closed when a predominantly black crowd came to town.
"In this day and age you would think that business owners realize that discrimination is not just illegal, but also immoral," said Kweisi Mfume, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP. "That kind of discrimination can't hold up in court."
The lawsuits seek injunctions and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.