Adela,  Americas,  Caribbean,  United States

“The Motorcycle Queen of Miami” Bessie Stringfield

16406668_409542266054528_4183621756802391740_nTo say she was an amazing woman would be an understatement. She 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 dispatch riders for the United States military.

Stringfield was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1911 to a black Jamaican father and a white Dutch mother. 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. During this time, she earned money from performing motorcycle stunts in carnival shows. Due to her skin color, Stringfield was often denied accommodation while traveling, so she would sleep on her motorcycle at filling stations. As a woman she was refused prizes in flat track races she entered.

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. During the four years she worked for the Army, she crossed the United States eight times.

In the 1950s Stringfield moved to Miami, Florida, where at first she was repeatedly pulled over and harassed by officers due to her color. She decided to visit the police captain and 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.

She qualified as a nurse there and founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club. 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.16403434_409542252721196_6165113916667638356_o

In 1990 the AMA paid tribute to her in their inaugural “Heroes of Harley-Davidson” exhibition she having owned 27 of their motorcycles. Stringfield was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame the award bestowed by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) for “Superior Achievement by a Female Motorcyclist” is named in her honor.

She suffered from complications from an enlarged heart. It was a condition that she had been diagnosed with years earlier. Her doctors advised her not ride but she told him that she would not live long if she was unable to ride.
Stringfield died in 1993 at the age of 82 from that very same condition but she kept riding right up until the time of her death.