Bessie Stringfield 1911-1993
Bessie Stringfield was born in Kingston, Jamaica and then brought to Boston, Massachusetts but was an orphan very soon after. A caring Irish woman adopted Stringfield and guided her Catholic faith. Her adopted mother taught her the power of maintaining a relationship with God. Stringfield drew from her faith to discover strength and courage. This was highly motivating for her, but her adoptive mother’s belief in her probably had the most impact. As a 16-year-old high schooler, Stringfield asked for a motorcycle – she got it and was a natural. She credits her quick learning and natural ability to “the man upstairs.”
Stringfield was an adventurous rider. She would throw a coin on a map and ride her motorcycle to spot where the coin landed. This allowed her to become the first woman to travel the continental 48 states on a motorcycle. This feat was just one of many firsts for Stringfield. She was the first African-American woman to make a solo trip across the U.S. She followed that up with seven more solo trips. In 2002, Stringfield became the first African-American woman inducted into the American Motorcycle Association Hall of Fame
Stringfield also served her country during World War II. She was the Army’s lone female motorcycle dispatch rider. When her career performing on the motorcycle ended, Stringfield founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club. From her days performing in regional carnivals, Stringfield developed her signature move during her brief stint as a stunt rider in carnivals. The move involved Stringfield standing on the seat of her Harley Davidson. In total, Stringfield owned 27 Harley Davidson motorcycles, which according to her, “is the only motorcycle ever made.”
In spite of her service to the country, and status as beloved performed, Stringfield was unable to get hotel accommodations while traveling, because she was black. She refused to allow prejudice to take away from her love of riding. She dismissed the racism and slept on her bike at gas stations using the handlebars as a pillow. Stringfield is the last name of Bessie’s third husband. She kept it (even though she married three more times) because she made the name famous.
The Motorcycle Queen of Miami, Bessie Stringfield, pioneered motorcycle riding and put to rest many false notions of women and motorcycles. She should be remembered as a Woman of Faith, a Military Veteran, a Performer, and a Competitor. Stringfield was diagnosed with an enlarged heart later in life. But even that did not sideline her, she informed the doctor, “If I don’t ride, I won’t live long. And so I never did quit.”