Bessie Stringfield, better known as the “Motorcycle Queen of Miami,” is a pioneering motorcyclist who broke down barriers for Black riders and women alike. The late Stringfield is historically known as the first Black woman to ride across the United States, riding well into her later years.
Stringfield was born in Jamaica in 1911 to a Black Jamaican father and a white Dutch mother. The family migrated north to the United States and settled in Boston, Mass. Tragedy struck when Stringfield was just five-years-old, when her parents died. An Irish woman primarily raised her from that point on.
At 16, Stringfield was given a motorcycle by her caregiver, a 1928 Indian Scout. Three years later, at the age of 19, she embarked on the first of eight cross-country trips with stops at carnivals and stunt shows. She made a name for herself as a Black woman motorcyclist earning money on her long road trips. However, because of her race and gender, she would often have to sleep outside on her motorcycle because hotels wouldn’t take her in.
Stringfield was married and divorced six times but never had children. She kept the last name of her third husband, Arthur Stringfield throughout her career. As her carnival stunt career slowed, Stringfield shifted gears and worked for the U.S. Army as a civilian motorcycle dispatch rider during World War II. She was the only woman in her unit and was essentially trained as a soldier.
Although she was a fearless rider, she endured racist attacks and taunts including people attempting to run her off the road. The incidents made her stronger and she decided to not let the prejudice of others get in the way of her love of motorcycles. Stringfield eventually settled just outside of Miami, Fla. and worked as a nurse.
Stringfield eventually founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club. She also still partook in races, winning one such event disguised as a man though she was denied the prize money when she revealed her true gender. It was in Miami where she earned her nickname and rode on one of her many Harley-Davidson bikes performing tricks.
Stringfield rode up until her death in 1993. She was 82. In 1990, the American Motorcyclist Association honored Stringfield in a Harley-Davidson exhibit. In 2000, the AMA named its “Superior Achievement by a Female Motorcyclist” award after her. In 2002, she was posthumously inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
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