Bessie Stringfield lived her live on the edge and made her mark as the first Black woman motorcyclist to travel solo across the United States. The Bessie Stringfield All-Female Ride, now in its fifth year, will be on hand to honor Stringfield at the unveiling of a display case inside the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The “Motorcycle Queen of Miami” gave varying accounts of her birth. The one she went with was that she was born to a Black Jamaican father and a white Dutch mother in 1911. Other accounts say she was born to Black parents in Edenton, North Carolina. What is widely understand is that when she was five-years-old, her parents passed and an Irish woman raised her in Boston.
At 16, Stringfield was given a motorcycle by her caregiver, a 1928 Indian Scout. Three years later, at the age of 19, she embarked on the first of eight cross-country trips with stops at carnivals and stunt shows. She made a name for herself as a Black woman motorcyclist earning money on her long road trips. However, because of her race and gender, she would often have to sleep outside on her motorcycle because hotels wouldn’t take her in.
Stringfield was married and divorced six times but never had children. She kept the last name of her third husband, Arthur Stringfield, throughout her career. As her carnival stunt career slowed, Stringfield shifted gears and worked for the U.S. Army as a civilian motorcycle dispatch rider during World War II. She was the only woman in her unit and was essentially trained as a soldier.
Although she was a fearless rider, she endured racist attacks and taunts including people attempting to run her off the road. The incidents made her stronger and she decided to not let the prejudice of others get in the way of her love of motorcycles. Stringfield eventually settled just outside of Miami, Fla. and worked as a nurse.
Stringfield eventually founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club. She also still partook in races, winning one such event disguised as a man though she was denied the prize money when she revealed her true gender. It was in Miami where she earned her nickname and rode on one of her many Harley-Davidson bikes performing tricks.
Stringfield was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2002. Riding well into her later years, Stringfield was 82 when she passed in 1993.
PHOTO: Public Domain
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