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East Bay Dragons
East Bay Dragons

Oakland's First All-Black, All-Harley Biker Club

East Bay Dragons
East Bay Dragons

The way Tobie Gene Levingston remembers it, the 1950s were all about rock ‘n roll and cars—especially the latter. Cruising, customizing, and painting took up a lot of free time. Levingston, the son of a sharecropper who had moved West with his family from Louisiana, cherished his Chevy enough to start a car club, inviting his brothers and friends into the fold. They called themselves the East Bay Dragons and even stuck plates with their logo in the rear windows.

There was just one problem: the cars.

As Levingston recalled in his 2004 autobiography, Soul on Bikes, most families in the ‘50s couldn’t afford the luxury of having more than one vehicle. A member of a car club tinkering and drag-racing their home’s lone mode of transportation became less and less practical. So Levingston customized the club itself, turning it into an all-black, all-Harley-Davidson riding crew in 1959. After all, used motorcycles could be had for as little as $40, and were often “chopped,” or modified, to fit the rider’s preferences.

The Dragons weren’t the first African-American biker club. Many soldiers had returned from World War II needing an adrenaline rush, and bikes offered a reliable fix. Of course, getting ahold of the vehicles wasn't always easy: several dealers refused to sell to minorities. Still, enough men got their hands on motorcycles that by the time the Dragons really got started, several California groups had already shown off their patches on the streets. But the Dragons were a departure from the rest: In contrast to the straight-laced riders who rode “full dressers,” or bikes with windshields and saddle bags, the Dragons mandated members ride bare-boned, American-made Harleys.

They also didn’t shy away from trouble. But it wasn't the police that worried Levingston. (As he remembers it, African-Americans driving cars got more attention from the cops than those on two wheels.) It was the territorial issues with other motorcycle clubs that sparked the biggest aggravation. A white group dubbed the Black Crows spread word that they intended to steal Dragon bikes. One bloody brawl later, that talk got quieter. The Dragons rode where they pleased, and if someone didn’t like it, that was their problem.

“We might be peaceful one minute, ass kickers the next,” Levingston wrote. “A pack of black riders would freak the living daylights out of the neighboring towns, communities, and police departments. That was okay … Would a member help you fix your car or kick your [butt]? Try your luck and find out.”

Unlike the Chosen Few, which invited black and white riders alike, the Dragons kept their doors closed to other races. Levingston believed the community needed a place to exchange ideas and develop a bond. (His car club once had a white member, who had been a little too liberal with his use of offensive language; Levingston recalls he moved away before he was enlightened with someone’s fists.)

Despite the Dragons occupying the same Oakland real estate as the infamous Hell’s Angels, the clubs got along well. Levingston befriended Sonny Barger, president of the Angels; the two had a common rival in local police. Color was of less significance than the fact they were all bikers, a label that was quickly becoming demonized in the media.

While Barger had seen the inside of Folsom Prison on more than one occasion, Levingston was committed to keeping the Dragons out of a courtroom. He insisted all members be employed, and unlike some riders of the era, he refused to put the social club ahead of family. Once, when he caught wind of a bad element trying to get drugs to circulate within the group, he closed down the clubhouse until the offenders moved on. Other times, trouble found him: when the Black Panthers made radical political waves in the 1960s, the two leather-wearing groups were often confused with one another.

Over the years, the Dragons have kept afloat with dues, organized dances, and other events—though the club could never avoid the violence of motorcycle culture entirely. One member was shot and killed as recently as 2011. But the Dragons live on: in 2014, the Oakland City Council recognized the Dragons for their 55 years of promoting charitable causes and having a “long and fond record of service in the community.” Levingston, now 80, is still club president.

All images courtesy of the East Bay Dragons.

   

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Courtesy of CURIOUS GEORGE is a production of Imagine, WGBH, and Universal. Curious George and related characters, created by Margret and H.A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and using under license. Licensed by UNIVERSAL STUDIOS LICENSING LLC. Television series: (c) 2015 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.
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How a Makeshift Bicycle Saved Curious George From the Nazis
Courtesy of CURIOUS GEORGE is a production of Imagine, WGBH, and Universal. Curious George and related characters, created by Margret and H.A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and using under license. Licensed by UNIVERSAL STUDIOS LICENSING LLC. Television series: (c) 2015 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.
Courtesy of CURIOUS GEORGE is a production of Imagine, WGBH, and Universal. Curious George and related characters, created by Margret and H.A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and using under license. Licensed by UNIVERSAL STUDIOS LICENSING LLC. Television series: (c) 2015 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.

Curious George, the beloved star of children’s literature, might not exist if not for an empty bicycle shop and a handy artist.

As a new video from Great Big Story explains, the cartoon monkey was the brainchild of Hans and Margret Rey, a Jewish-German couple who lived in Rio de Janeiro in the 1930s. The two pet monkeys that the writer/illustrator duo kept there soon became the inspiration for a character they called Fifi: an impish, inquisitive monkey.

The Reys later moved to Paris, but when the Nazis invaded France, they were forced to flee, taking their manuscripts with them. When they tried to make their escape, though, they discovered that no more trains were leaving the city.

The desperate couple located a bicycle store, only to find no available bikes. Making do with what was available, Hans Rey used spare parts to jerry-rig two makeshift bikes to carry them—and the story of the monkey who would later become Curious George—to Lisbon, Portugal, where a ship to New York awaited them.

Hear the amazing true story of the Reys' journey (and learn how Fifi evolved into the George we know today) by watching the video below.

[h/t Great Big Story]

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The Netherlands Is Paving Its Roads With Recycled Toilet Paper
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There are plenty of bike lanes in the notoriously pro-cycling country that is the Netherlands, but only one is made of toilet paper. In the country's northwest province of Friesland, a 0.6-mile bike path connecting two towns is the first to be paved with recycled toilet paper, according to CityLab.

The TP helps maintain traction on slippery roads, as one expert told CityLab. The recycled toilet paper is used to add cellulose into open-graded asphalt friction course (OGFC), a type of water-permeable blacktop. This type of paving material is better at draining water, an especially important characteristic for surfaces in the Netherlands, where flood control is a necessary precaution. The cellulose helps stabilize the mixture that makes up the asphalt, known as OGAF. The recycling technology used to build the bike lane was developed by the Dutch consultants KNN and the wastewater tech company CirTec.

Two men stand on a paving machine in front of an asphalt bike lane.

There are plenty of materials that contain cellulose, but paving roads is a pretty good use for the one type of recycled cellulose that can’t be incorporated into a lot of other products: the kind that comes into regular contact with poop.

The recycled toilet paper in this case is collected during wastewater processing, where it’s separated out from all that excrement and then sterilized, bleached, and dried for reuse. People tend to not want to come in contact with things that have touched poop, though, so no amount of sterilization makes it OK to turn the product into recycled napkins or other paper products. But since toilet paper is typically a source of high-quality cellulose fibers (from wood chips or recycled paper), it would be a shame to waste it. Hence the pavement, which is mixed at such high temperatures that the manufacturing process would kill off any remaining pathogens that might possibly lurk within the post-treatment TP.

Friesland’s toilet paper asphalt has been around for about a year now, and according to CityLab writer Tiffany R. Jansen, it looks almost identical to the rest of the bike path. The toilet paper-laced asphalt has since been used to pave a parking lot and a dyke in the region, too.

As long as we’re wiping our butts with paper, we might as well recycle the results. Yes, toilet paper grows on trees, but that doesn’t mean we should waste it. Though the cellulose from the toilet paper only makes up about 5 percent of the pavement mixture with this technology, it’s still a good way to make a dent in city waste. Until everyone gets on the bidet train, that is.

[h/t CityLab]

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