Tobie Gene Levingston, who founded the East Bay Dragons, one of the nation’s first all-Black motorcycle clubs, died Tuesday morning of natural causes at the age of 86.
Levingston was born in Louisiana in 1934 to a sharecropper father who made the migration West, along with thousands of other black American families, in the 1950’s. At the time, West Oakland’s Seventh Street corridor was still a bustling commercial strip, dotted with jazz clubs and black-owned businesses buzzing with customers from Oakland’s Army base. East Oakland was full of families who worked in the nearby metal foundries and packing plants, and the Levingston family settled in Brookfield Village.
The Black Panthers and The East Bay Dragons Motorcycle Club were sometimes mistaken for each other by law enforcement. In Spring of 1967, East Bay Dragons member Joe Louis opened up Papa Joe’s Soul Food a few short blocks from the clubhouse. The Black Panthers earliest headquarters was just a few blocks from the Dragons clubhouse. Founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and chief of staff David Hilliard often came in and ate in Joe’s restaurant. The East Bay Dragons had already established a strong presence within communities in East Oakland. During the initial phases of the creation of the Black Panthers, Newton and Seale approached the East Bay Dragons for ideas and support.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf paid tribute to Levingston Wednesday night on social media, “From always feeding the community and supporting generations of East Oaklanders, to hosting my very first Budget Town Hall as Mayor and proudly escorting Hammer and me in Warriors victory parades, the East Bay Dragons have been a constant source of service and pride for Oakland.”
“Mr. Levingston built the East Bay Dragons Motorcycle Club on the values of community, family, and the tight bonds of brotherhood. He is an Oakland treasure that will be sorely missed. May he rest – and ride – in peace.”
Funeral services are pending.