Meet the East Bay Dragons, the oldest Black motorcycle club in the West

Tuesday, February 28, 2023
Meet the oldest Black motorcycle club in the West
The East Bay Dragons motorcycle club has been proudly riding along since 1959 and will roll right into the next decade as strong as ever.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Every weekend in East Oakland on 88th Avenue and International Boulevard, you hear the rumbles of motorcycles way before you see the East Bay Dragons' Clubhouse.

"I really got interested in the Dragons when I saw them coming off the freeway on the motorcycles," 80-year-old Willie Lee Harper Jr., a member of the East Bay Dragons, said.

The moment Harper was referring to was in 1962.

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"They had the helmet we got now," Harper continued. "You know, the flame helmet and the motorcycles were just sparkling like the bikes that you see in the movies. The white boys used to have those kinds of bikes, but to see some Black people doing that, it was like, 'Man!'"

Members said this was at a time when a Black man riding a Harley was a revolutionary act. The East Bay Dragons were founded by Tobie Gene Levingston in 1959. The son of sharecroppers moved from Louisiana to Oakland and wanted something to keep his siblings busy. The club was initially for cars, but quickly changed to motorcycles. They're cheaper and according to the Dragons, the cops wouldn't bother them as much on bikes.

"I bought a super racer, Honda, super Hulk racer 125," Harper went on. "So, I rode it all the way from Berkeley to West Oakland to 16th and Market, where I lived, in first gear. I didn't know how to change the gear. I said I'm going to get in the Dragons!," Harper joyfully recalled his journey.

The thing is, you have to ride a Harley to be in the club. Levingston got wind of Harper's situation and helped him out. They built the bike.

"When I put my bike together, all the chrome, nuts, and bolts that I didn't use on my bike, they went into this barrel at Tobie's house," Harper said. So, the next guy to come along to put his bike together, he didn't have to spend the money."

It's not just building bikes, the East Bay Dragons also have a knack for building relationships.

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"The Hell's Angels are real good friends of ours," Kim Cloud said. The Hell's Angels presented the East Bay Dragons with a plaque to commemorate their 60-year anniversary. It hangs above the bar in the clubhouse today.

Levingston and Hell's Angels leader Sonny Barger maintained their decades-long friendship until Levingston's death in 2020.

In the 60's, you could find the East Bay Dragons riding alongside activists.

"We weren't Black Panthers, but we supported the movement," Bennie Whitfield, an East Bay Dragons member, said.

The most important relationship the East Bay Dragons have had over the years is clearly the one with each other. Glenn Anderson said when the crack epidemic took hold of the country in the 1980's, the Dragons kept many men out of trouble.

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"Joining the Dragons, it kind of guided me." Anderson said. "I had been in and out of jail, but once I got into the Dragons, it was like a men's finishing school. I see all these young guys now. I hope they're getting what I got."

It seems like the younger members are benefiting from the wisdom. Whitfield joined the Dragons in 1961 and now his sons are members and sharing in the experience.

"Oh man, that's a blessing to me," Whitfield said. "I look for them to go further. As long as they stay united and trust one another, and loving and kind to one another, like a brotherhood. Not just a friend, but love him."

"It's a high that I would wish on every Black man," Duwayne Williams, East Bay Dragons' president, said.

Williams took over as club president after Levingston's death. He's dedicated to continuing the legacy of service to their community and each other.

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"I'm sure when they got together and it became the East Bay Dragons they didn't never know that it was going to come this far," Williams said. "Mr. Tobie Gene Levingston was a hell of a guy."

Cloud showed the ABC7 news anchor Jobina Fortson around the clubhouse. There's so much love and respect throughout the building. It serves as a safe haven for members and their families.

The East Bay Dragons took Jobina on a "run." Roaring down International Boulevard, Jobina said the ride felt like a cool, leather clad family road trip. The East Bay Dragons have been proudly riding along for more than six decades and will roll right into the next decade as strong as ever.

See more stories and videos related to Black History Month here.

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