10/4/08

The Motorcycle Queen of Miami



Bessie Stringfield (1911 - 1993) , nicknamed "The Motorcycle Queen of Miami", was an African American woman credited with breaking down barriers for both women and African American motorcyclists. She was the first African-American woman to ride across the United States solo and during WWII she served as one of the few motorcycle despatch riders for the United States military. The award bestowed by the AMA for 'Superior Achievement by a Female Motorcyclist' is named in her honour. In 2002 Stringfield was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.




Stringfield was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1911, but her parents 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 sixteen Stringfield taught herself to ride her first motorcycle, a 1928 Indian Scout. At the age of nineteen she commenced travelling across the United States and eventually rode through the 48 lower states. During this time she earned money from performing motorcycle stunts in carnival shows[3]. Due to her skin colour, Stringfield was often denied accomodation while travelling, so she would sleep on her motorcycle at filling stations.

During WWII Stringfield served as a civilian courier for the US Army, carrying documents between domestic army bases. During the four years she worked for the Army she crossed the United States eight times. She regularly encountered racism during this time, reportedly being deliberately knocked down by a white male in a pickup truck while travelling in the South.




In the 1950s Stringfield moved to Miami, Florida where she qualified as a nurse and founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club. Her skill and antics at motorcycle shows gained the attention of the local press, leading to the nickname of "The Negro Motorcycle Queen". This nickname later changed to "The Motorcycle Queen of Miami", a moniker she carried for the remainder of her life. In 1990 the AMA paid tribute to her in their inaugural "Heroes of Harley Davidson" exhibit[4]. Stringfield died in 1993 at the age of 82 from a heart condition.

In 2000 the AMA created the "Bessie Stringfield Memorial Award" to recognise outstanding achievement by a female motorcyclist, and Stringfield was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2002.