Little Known Black History Fact: Bessie B. Stringfield

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  • Bessie B. Stringfield, a.k.a. “BB,” was the first black woman to make eight long-distance solo tours across the U.S. on a motorcycle. In the 1930’s, BB Stringfield rode her hot rod through areas known for racial violence and prejudice. She earned the nickname “The Negro Motorcycle Queen.” On her tours, Bessie Stringfield traveled through Brazil, Haiti and parts of Europe. Her next destination was determined by tossing a penny on a map. As she rode through Jim Crow country, BB would sometimes sleep on her motorcycle with a blanket if there were no safe places for her to stay during her trip.

    Born in Kingston, Jamaica, BB Stringfield came to America as a child and was given up for adoption. At age 16, she was given a motorcycle by her Irish adoptive mother, who’s name she was not allowed to repeat. It was said that the woman gifted Bessie anything she wanted as long as he prayed to “the man upstairs” for it first. After she was gifted her first 1928 Indian Scout bike, BB Stringfield would later purchase another 27 motorcycles throughout her life.

    Throughout her travels, BB performed motorcycle stunts for local carnivals. The press loved her balancing stunt while her Harley was in motion.

    Bessie used her motorcycle talent to work as the only female civilian motorcycle dispatch rider in World War II. She quickly carried documents between military bases and sharpened her riding skills by riding over makeshift bridges. Once her tour was complete, she moved to Miami and founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club. In Miami, Stringfield secretly entered riding contests as a man, and after winning, removed her helmet to reveal her gender. As a result, she was often denied the prize money.

    In her personal life, BB Stringlfied married and divorced six times. She lost three children over the years. Her final husband, Arthur Stringfield, asked that Bessie keep his last name because it made him famous.

    Bessie Stringfield, the Negro Motorcycle Queen, died in 1993 at age 82 from an enlarged heart. Her memory was left with the remainder of her six-ex husbands. In 2002 she was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

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