In a list of heroic actions, riding a motorcycle across the country might not seem like a remarkable feat. However, in the 1930s America, for an African-American woman it was more than just impressive. Bessie Stringfield was born in 1911 in the Southern United States. She taught herself how to ride a motorcycle at the age of 16 and that’s when her adventures began.
For a black woman paving a way that has never been walked before, the road wasn’t kind. Ann Ferrar, Bessie Stringfield’s friend and her authorized biographer, is writing a new memoir and biography of Stringfield. The new book, still in progress, builds on Ferrar’s earlier stories about Bessie, such as that in her book debut “Hear Me Roar: Women, Motorcycles and the Rapture of the Road” (NY: Crown, 1996). According to Ferrar, as an African-American, Stringfield was often denied accommodation during her travels, leaving Stringfield no other choice, but to sleep on her Harley motorcycle, or, if she was lucky, stay with black families that she met. On top of that, she was refused a prize in a race she entered, purely because she was a woman. Despite all the odds, Bessie Stringfield achieved what others thought impossible for a black woman.
She became the first African-American woman to ride across the states solo, defying racial and gender barriers, as well making other 7 long distance trips in the USA, Europe, and Brazil. The woman performed motorcycle stunts in carnivals, served as a courier for the US Army during WWII until her presence in the motorcycle scene attracted media attention and she earned the title of “The Motorcycle Queen of Miami”. Although Stringfield passed away in 1993, her legacy lives on with “Bessie Stringfield Memorial Award” to recognize achievements of female motorcyclists, her well-deserved place in Motorcycle Hall of Fame, as well as Bessie’s memory that inspires many across the world.
Photos courtesy Ann Ferrar; American Motorcycle Hall of Fame.