By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Men in leather vests, black boots, and helmets parked their motorcycles outside a club on Rev. Abraham Woods Jr. Boulevard as the sun began to set on a recent Monday evening. They stood outside, chatting about their bikes, showing off new features and lights.
Down the street, music from the Isley Brothers blasting from speakers inched closer to the parking lot where the men stood. It was 69-year-old H.C. Brooks on his motorcycle with a powerful stereo sound system.
The men came inside the club and greeted each other with smiles and hugs, as if they were brothers catching up.
Members of the Tru Riders Motorcycle Club, one of the oldest black motorcycle groups in Birmingham, gathered to speak with the Birmingham Times. The club was founded 45 years ago, and on scene for the interview were members as old as 77 who still take cross-country bike rides.
“Most people hear motorcycle clubs and think about Hell’s Angels, but most people are in it for fun, just to ride,” said Tru Riders member Michael “Country Time” Anderson.
Tru Riders is one of several motorcycle and motorsports clubs in the Birmingham area. The groups—which also include the #1 Stunnas Motorsports Club, Vikings Motorcycle Club, Steel City Ryders, and the Birmingham chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club—are made up of men and women of all races. The riders are doctors, lawyers, police officers, musicians, veterans, truck drivers, train conductors. The groups often travel to events that are nearby, such as the Magic City Classic, as well as on the other side of the country.
The ultimate goal is simple: ride your motorcycle and do good in the neighborhood.
That’s what led Chelsey “Black Jack” Jackson, 82, to found Tru Riders in 1972.
“I was riding with a group out in Bessemer, and they didn’t do enough riding for me. So, I decided I would get my own club so I could ride when I got ready,” he said.
The club started out with two members, Black Jack and friend Paul Brown.
“After that we went to four members and then six, which we had for about three years. After that, [members] just started coming in,” said Jackson, who rode from Selma to meet with the Times.
When Jackson arrived at the club, he was greeted like royalty with hugs and excitement from members who had been part of the club since the late 1970s and others who joined as recently as six months ago. Tru Riders is an all-male motorcycle club with a chapter in Montgomery that prides itself on presenting the community in a positive light.
Another bike club can be located on 18th Street Ensley in a black building with tinted windows and a big white “#1” painted on the front. The #1 Stunnas is a co-ed, mixed motorsports club with more than 40 members whose ages range from 21 to 55.
The Stunnas don’t focus solely on motorcycles; they also have a cruiser and car-and-truck division.
“We have some nice bikes in our clubs,” said #1 Stunnas member Blue Haze. “We like to show off. We like looking good when we ride.”
Among the Stunnas, bikes and cruisers vary. There is a combination of Harley Davidsons, Canams, Hayabusas, Kawasakis, and Sling Shots (Polaris), as well as custom cars, such as Mustangs and Corvettes. The Stunnas are part of a national club that was founded in 2003 and has more than 40 chapters around the United States and in Japan.
There is no rivalry between Tru Riders and #1 Stunnas. There are differences, but there is mutual respect.
“If a club has an anniversary party, it’s mandatory that we go to their event,” Blue Haze said. “We respect them, just as we expect them to respect us.”
The clubs also have what are called Hang Nights, designated evenings each week when clubs open to host other clubs and the public. Tru Riders’ designated night is Friday; #1 Stunnas’ is Monday.
“Saturdays are left open in case there is an anniversary, a break out, or a big event that every club would go to,” said Tru Riders Vice President Sammie “Main” Gilchrist.
Club members must meet certain standards.
“You have to be family-oriented,” said Gilchrist. “If you can’t take care of your family, if you can’t pay your dues, if you don’t have a job, you don’t need to be a Tru Rider. No one needs to make this club their number-one priority. It should always be the family first.”
Riders also must be diligent.
Mario “Dupree” Leonard of Tru Riders is currently in the midst of his year-long probation period.
“It’s work to come out to the clubhouse and maintain it,” he said. “On our Hang Nights, people have to be served, trash has to be taken out. It’s like a restaurant. Things have to be maintained, and that’s part of the brotherhood.”
Both clubs also have bike requirements before riding.
“When we go on a road trip, we check the bikes. If [someone has] a problem with their bike …, they can’t ride with us,” said Jackson. “[That would make them] a safety hazard to all of us.”
The Stunnas have a safety checklist, as well.
“We want our bikes to not just look good but also be safe,” said #1 Stunnas member Big Reese. “Your bike has to be checked off in order to ride with us.”
Blue Haze said safety goes beyond rides: “We have a lot of Stunnas who are here to make sure people are safe and that nothing happens. We make sure no fights break out.”
Activities are closely monitored during Hang Nights and parties, said Big Reese.
“If you drink too much, we take your keys and lock up your bike in the garage,” he said. “We will make sure you get home safely. If we have to call an Uber or drive you ourselves, we make sure you get there in one piece.”
Differences between the clubs are minor. To be a Stunna, a prospective member—called a “probie”—must ride more than 1,000 miles in three months. In Tru Riders, there is no minimum mileage requirement, but probies must go through a six-month probation period before earning membership.
“We have to get a feel for you,” said Gilchrist. “If you make it six months, everyone votes you in, but you will still be on probation for a year. In other words, if we don’t like what we see, we can put you out of the club.”
Another difference: #1 Stunnas is comprised of both men and women.
“The ladies in this club keep the men grounded,” said #1 Stunnas Secretary Foxsy. “Just like in any relationship, we set the foundation, we help them, we keep them level-headed.”
Foxsy, who has been a member for two years, said the women also hold their own: “We are equal. Our opinions matter just like their opinions matter. We get to vote just like they get to vote.”
Foxsy, who previously was part of an all-female club, said being in a co-ed club has some advantages.
“If your bike breaks down, you know they’re going to be there with a trailer ready to help you along,” she said. “They look after us. It doesn’t matter where we go, they’re going to make sure we’re safe no matter what.”
Benita “Chocolate Drop” Pullom, who has been riding for 17 years and a member of the Stunnas for 10, said the belief that motorcycle clubs are gangs is false.
“I found my husband on the bike scene,” she said. “It’s not the dangerous group that people think it is.”
Read more on Birmingham’s motorsports scene:
From Stop the Violence rides to blessing bikes, club member build goodwill
Tommie “Slim” Essex is president of #1 Stunnas Motorsports Club. And he serves drinks.