Bessie Stringfield – A True Rebel and Pioneer
In recognition of Black History Month, we’d like to share with you the story on the very phenomenal Bessie Stringfield, credited as the first black woman to ride across the United States solo.
Ms. Stringfield was noted with breaking down barriers for both women and African American motorcyclists. Born in Kingston, Jamaica and moved to Boston, MA. At the tender age of five her parents unfortunately passed away. This lost little black girl was adopted and raised by an Irish woman.
At the young age of 16, Ms. Stringfield taught herself how to ride her first motorcycle, a 1928 Indian Scout. Her drive to ride was infinite. She rode across the United States traveling through 48 states. She also rode through Europe, Brazil and Haiti all while at the of only 19. This woman of color was a force to be reckoned with. Taking her passion to another level, Ms. Stringfield performed motorcycle stunts in carnival shows to earn money. While traveling, she faced many challenges as a black woman often being denied accommodations and being treated as a second-class citizen. On occasion, Ms. Stringfield would found herself having no choice, but to sleep at gas stations on her motorcycle. She also entered and won flat track races, but was denied prizes because she was a woman and no doubt a black woman.
Ms. Stringfield worked for the U.S. Army during World War II as a dispatch rider. Her mission was carrying documents between domestic army bases. Within four years of working for the Army, she crossed the United States eight times encountering racism on the way. While traveling in the South, Ms. Stringfield was deliberately knocked down by a white male in a pickup truck.
Ms. Stringfield moved to Miami, Florida in the 1950s. She was told by a local police officer that “nigger women are not allowed to ride motorcycles”. That went in one ear and out the other. Ms. Stringfield continued on her quest and qualified as a nurse in Miami. It’s there that she founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club. Ms. Stringfield gained the attention of the local press with her skills and antics at motorcycle shows. Given her skills she was nicknamed “The Negro Motorcycle Queen” later changed to “The Motorcycle Queen of Miami” which she proudly carried for the remainder of her life.
The American Motorcycle Association (AMA) paid tribute to her in their inaugural “Heroes of Harley-Davidson” exhibition. The AMA created the “Bessie Stringfield Award” in 2000 to recognize outstanding achievement by a female motorcyclist. Ms. Stringfield was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2002. The award bestowed by the AMA for “Superior Achievement by a Female Motorcyclist” is named in her honor.
At the blessed age of 82, Ms. Stringfield died from a heart condition in 1993. She rode right up until the time of her death having owned 27 Harley-Davidsons throughout her lifetime.
Hail to this pioneer African-American Female Motorcyclist for her contribution, dedication, enthusiasm and inspiration in paving the road for women motorcycle riders!
Peace and Blessings,
Debra aka Lady D