#BlackHistory: Remembering Bessie Stringfield: The First Black Woman To Ride Across The United States Solo

by Yvonne
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Bessie Steingfield the motorcycle queen

Bessie Steingfield: The Motorcycle Queen! A true trailblazing heroine, an inspiration to generations to come.

It’s black history month so we get the pleasure of bringing #Blackmagic πŸ’― in your face and today we celebrate the extraordinary talent, life and legacy of American motorcyclist Bessie Steingfield, the first African-American woman to ride across the United States solo.

At 5ft 2 Bessie Stringfield at first glance didn’t come across as tough or intimidating, but within she possessed guts and that, itself was her power.

Born in Jamaica in 1911 to a father who was of Jamaican orgin and a white Dutch woman, the family had moved to Boston but happily ever after as a family was not to be as tragedy befell both parents who consequently died of smallpox, Bessie was just 5 years old when she was adopted.

Bessie at age 16 already knew her passion – biking and so on her birthday she asked for a motorcycle and landed a new 1928 Indian Scout 101. At just 19, the adventurer already knew biking was her world: Inspired and self taught, upon graduating high school, Bessie started already begun touring the country on her bike, performing stunts and earning money at carnivals and county fairs as well as engaging in competitions. Amongst her many tours of the United States, she made trips to Brazil, Haiti, and Europe.

Stringfield notably served as a volunteer, using her bike and becoming one of the few civilian motorcycle dispatch riders for the US Army during World War II, carrying documents between domestic army bases.

After the war ended, Bessie stuck to her passion and settled in Florida, eventually becoming known at the “Motorcycle Queen of Miami”.

Racism and sexism were baggages she had encountered but held on strongly. She was often denied accommodation while traveling, so she would end up sleeping on her motorcycle at filling stations and was refused prizes in flat track races she entered.

In the 1950s Stringfield moved to Miami, Florida, there she was bluntly told “nigger women are not allowed to ride motorcycles” by the local police. Intimidation and harassment took hold several times and after repeatedly being pulled over and harassed by officers, she decided to address it by paying visit to the police captain. Her riding abilities were tested and applaudably, she gained a nod of approval from the captain to ride and that was the end of the harrassment.

Bessie Stringfield is credited with breaking down barriers for both women and Jamaican-American motorcyclists.

Legacies;

In 2000 the AMA created the “Bessie Stringfield Memorial Award” to recognize outstanding achievement by a female motorcyclist. Stringfield was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2002. In 1990 the AMA paid tribute to her in their inaugural “Heroes of Harley-Davidson” exhibition she having owned 27 of their motorcycles.

In 2017 Timeline released free and online a short film about Bessie Stringfield, “Meet Bessie Stringfield, the Black β€˜Motorcycle Queen’”

In 2018 The New York Times published her obituary.

The 2020 HBO series Lovecraft Country features a homage to Bessie Stringfield.

Bessie Stringfield, founder of the Iron Horse motorcycle club, had her own fair share of tragedy; married and divorced six times, losing three babies with her first husband. She kept the last name of her third husband, Arthur Stringfield.

Born to ride! Steingfield who didn’t slow down kept riding till her death in 1993 from a heart condition at age 82.

Salute!

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