Bessie Stringfield

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Bessie Stringfield
Bessie Stringfield.jpg
Born 1911
Kingston, Jamaica
Died February 1993
Opa Locka, Florida[1]
Known for Pioneer African-American female motorcyclist

Bessie Stringfield (1911 – February 1993), nicknamed "The Motorcycle Queen of Miami",[2] was the first African-American woman to ride across the United States solo, and during World War II she served as one of the few motorcycle despatch riders for the United States military.

Credited with breaking down barriers for both women and African-American motorcyclists,[3] Stringfield was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.[4] the award bestowed by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) for "Superior Achievement by a Female Motorcyclist" is named in her honor.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Stringfield was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1911 to a black Jamaican father and a white Dutch mother.[5] The family migrated to Boston when she was still young. Her parents died when Stringfield was five and she was adopted and raised by an Irish woman.

At the age of 16 Stringfield taught herself to ride her first motorcycle, a 1928 Indian Scout. In 1930, at the age of 19, she commenced traveling across the United States. She made seven more long-distance trips in the US, and eventually rode through the 48 lower states, Europe, Brazil and Haiti.[6][7] During this time, she earned money from performing motorcycle stunts in carnival shows.[4] Due to her skin color, Stringfield was often denied accommodation while traveling, so she would sleep on her motorcycle at filling stations. Due to her sex, she was refused prizes in flat track races she entered.[8]

She married and divorced six times, losing three babies with her first husband. She ended up keeping the last name of her third husband, Arthur Stringfield, since she had made it famous.[7]

World War II and later life[edit]

During WWII Stringfield served as a civilian courier for the US Army, carrying documents between domestic army bases. She completed the rigorous training and rode her own blue 61 cubic inch Harley-Davidson.[7] During the four years she worked for the Army, she crossed the United States eight times. She regularly encountered racism during this time, reportedly being deliberately knocked down by a white male in a pickup truck while traveling in the South.

In the 1950s Stringfield moved to Miami, Florida, where at first she was told "nigger women are not allowed to ride motorcycles" by the local police.[9] After repeatedly being pulled over and harassed by officers, she visited the police captain. They went to a nearby park to prove her riding abilities. She gained the captain’s approval to ride and didn’t have any more trouble with the police.[10]

She qualified as a nurse there and founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club.[6] Her skill and antics at motorcycle shows gained the attention of the local press, leading to the nickname of "The Negro Motorcycle Queen". This nickname later changed to "The Motorcycle Queen of Miami", a moniker she carried for the remainder of her life. In 1990 the AMA paid tribute to her in their inaugural "Heroes of Harley-Davidson" exhibition[11] she having owned 27 of their motorcycles.[12] Stringfield died in 1993 at the age of 82 from a heart condition, having kept riding right up until the time of her death.[6]

Legacy[edit]

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.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ American Motorcyclist May 1993. P.67
  2. ^ AMA Honors Margaret Wilson with Bessie Stringfield Award
  3. ^ Hear Me Roar: Women, Motorcycles and the Rapture of the Road, Whitehorse Press; 2nd edition (January 15, 2001), ISBN 1884313248.
  4. ^ a b Motorcycle Hall of Fame entry
  5. ^ Stevenson, Jed (July 28, 1996). "Hear Me Roar, a Woman's Symphony on the Road". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 13, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Missy Scott. ABC-CLIO, August 30, 2008
  7. ^ a b c d "AMA Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame | Bessie Stringfield". www.motorcyclemuseum.org. Retrieved October 13, 2015. 
  8. ^ Bill Kresnak, Motorcycling For Dummies. John Wiley & Sons, July 28, 2008.
  9. ^ American Motorcyclist, June 1996, p. 31.
  10. ^ Mullins, Sasha (January 1, 2003). Bikerlady: Living & Riding Free!. Citadel Press. ISBN 9780806525198. 
  11. ^ Bessie Stringfield - harley-davidson.com
  12. ^ Ernestine G. Miller, Making Her Mark: Firsts and Milestones in Women's Sports, McGraw-Hill Professional, May 29, 2002.