When we put our minds to it, Black women can excel at just about anything, including riding and doing crazy tricks on motorcycles. A member of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, Bessie Stringfield (1911-1993) was the first Jamaican-American woman to ride solo across the country, including riding across the South during especially strong racial prejudice. Sure, she was harassed, and we’re convinced she had her moments of worry, but that didn’t stop her from making such long-distance treks not just once, but eight different times. Check out five things you should know about the pioneering motorcyclist.
Bad ass woman of the day: Bessie Stringfield (1911 – February 1993), nicknamed “The Motorcycle Queen of Miami”, 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. #bessiestringfield #themotorcyclequeenofmiami #motorcycle #badasswoman
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At 16, She Taught Herself How to Ride Her First Motorcycle
Brought to the United States from Kingston, Jamaica when she was a young girl, at only 16 years old, Bessie rode her first motorcycle. She had no real knowledge of how to do so, but Bessie was able to ride that 1928 Indian Scout like a natural. She would later say that it was all God’s doing.
“My [adoptive] mother said if I wanted anything I had to ask Our Lord Jesus Christ, and so I did,” she said. “He taught me and He’s with me at all times, even now. When I get on the motorcycle I put the Man Upstairs on the front. I’m very happy on two wheels.”
At 19, She Started Making Solo Long-Distance Trips
While we were struggling to find our footing in college at the age of 19, Bessie had already started traveling across the country. She would reportedly flip a coin and where it landed on a map was where she would head to. She hit the lower 48 states over the years with no trouble and eventually had the chance to ride through countries like Europe, Brazil and Haiti.
God bless the biker chicks tho! ??Shout out to #bessiestringfield for being the first black woman to ride across the US on her motorcycle and breaking through barriers for black women. ____________________________ #blackgirlsride#blackwomen#womenshistorymonth#motorcycle#blackgirlsmagic#blackgirlsrock#blacklesbians#blacklesbianmagic
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She Dealt Not Only With Racism, but a Lot of Sexism
To make money while traveling frequently, Bessie performed stunts at carnival shows and took part in flat track races. Unfortunately, because she was a woman, there were times when she was not awarded the prize money she was owed for her performances in these races. Not to mention that during her travels, because she was Black, Bessie was not allowed in a lot of places of lodging. Therefore, she would rest on her bike.
“If you had black skin you couldn’t get a place to stay,” she said. “I knew the Lord would take care of me and He did. If I found black folks, I’d stay with them. If not, I’d sleep at filling stations on my motorcycle.”
She Was Often Harassed While Riding
While serving our country during World War II as a civilian courier for the U.S. Army, Bessie was the only woman in her unit. She did her work using her own Harley-Davidson bike, taking documents to different bases around the country. She dealt with racism during that time, even being knocked off of her bike by a man driving his pickup down South. However, Bessie just looked at these issues as occasional “ups and downs.”
Bessie Stringfield, the “Motorcycle Queen of Miami”, broke barriers for women and African-American cyclists. Throughout her life she completed eight solo cross-country tours and served as a U.S. Army motorcycle dispatch rider. In 2002, she was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. #blackhistorymonth #blackfacts #bessiestringfield
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She Rode up Until Her Death
After moving to Miami in the ’50s, Bessie butt heads with local police officers who told her that Black women (the n-word was used) were not allowed to ride motorcycles. She did so anyway, and eventually had to prove her talents and riding abilities to the police captain in order to be left alone. This occurred following harassment and consistently being pulled over by officers. When she did impress the man, she wasn’t bothered by police in Miami afterward. Free to ride, she founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club and her style of riding, including occasionally standing on her seat while she rode, made her a press darling. She garnered the title of Motorcycle Queen of Miami and rode up until died at 82.