ABC 15/WPDE is reporting that Atlantic Beach town officials have decided to change the name of the annual Memorial Day festival from "Atlantic Beach Bikefest" to the "Black Pearl Cultural Heritage and Bike Festival." Atlantic Beach, known as the "black pearl" of the beach, for generations, was once the only beach community that welcomed African American beach-goers.
Per WPDE, town leaders hope to bring the festival back to it's "roots." Since the 1980, the tiny community has hosted the festival, but with most participants and guests lodging and dining in hotels and restaurants throughout the Grand Strand.
More on organizers' intent with the name change HERE.
I've been a vocal critic of this event, largely because of it's placement on the calendar and the behavior of folks who come to have a "no holds barred" frenzy of activity, legal or otherwise. Memorial Day Weekend, for most beach communities, is one of, if not the, biggest weekends on the beach calendar. In the Myrtle Beach area, however, the pricier resorts and hotels see lower occupancy rates as families have gotten used to avoiding the area, fearful of perceptions of violent crime and lewd behavior.
The festival weekend has, in years past, been fraught with incidences of violent crime, and carries with it, a negative connotation outside the African American community. The weekend has also taken on a bit of a mystique with African American college students, as well, attracting young party-goers; many have taken full advantage of the sheer numbers advantage to do what ever they wish, legal or otherwise, in broad daylight. It's all too unfortunate. There are no "winners" when it comes to perception.
What's worse, Horry County residents, as well as residents of nearby cities like North Myrtle and Myrtle Beach, wind up footing the bill for the enlarged law enforcement presence that weekend ,while Atlantic Beach, with no more than a single police officer - it's chief Timothy Taylor - makes money off the event without bothering to share the proceeds (not that they'd come close to covering the costs other cities and the county incurs).
Maybe the name-change is a good start, though; I've another suggestion, though. Move the festival to another weekend. Maybe late July or early August. Maybe just before colleges start back in early September, even. Like Labor Day weekend and the weekend nearest Independence Day, Memorial Day Weekend is an all-too important period on the calendar for a beach destination. Doing this alters some of the "traditions" that have surfaced that I think we can all agree we'd like to see less of, while preserving the festival for its original intent.
I've suggested this for years now, and it's fallen on deaf ears, but I keep trying, anyhow. In the meanwhile, we locals will again be charged with enduring another 23-mile loop weekend and be wary of traveling in our own community again, if we even stick around. This just shouldn't be, particularly when it feels like 99% of the area's population is made to accommodate for a town of a population of around 350.