Jamaican Bessie B. Stringfield, First Black Woman to Ride Motorcycle across USA, Featured in New York Times “Overlooked” Series

Jamaican Bessie B Stringfield First Black Woman to Ride Motorcycle across USA

Under the headline “Overlooked No More,” a Jamaican woman motorcycle pioneer is featured in the New York Times. Bessie B. Stringfield, known as the “Motorcycle Queen of Miami,” rode her Harley-Davidson motorcycle through the Florida city’s streets when most women were housewives.

The legend that grew up around Stringfield earned her a place in the American Motorcycle Association’s Hall of Fame in 2002, ten years after her death. Hundreds of women motorcyclists make a yearly cross-country pilgrimage Stringfield’s honor, and she has been commemorated in a comic book, received a mention in a documentary film, and is included in a book about women motorcyclist penned by her friend Ann Ferrar, who is working on a book about their friendship.

Stringfield herself was a great storyteller and regaled listeners with tales of being run off the road during the Jim Crow years in the South, performing the “Wall of Death” event in carnivals, and working as a civilian motorcycle dispatch rider for the United States Army during the 1940s.

While there is some doubt about her childhood and parents, Stringfield said she was born in Jamaica to an interracial couple and was left motherless at an early age. According to her death certificate, she was born in March 1911 to James Richard White and M. Cherry in Kingston, Jamaica. The Social Security index records her birth year as 1912.

After being abandoned by her father in Boston, she was adopted by an Irish woman who gave her a motorcycle when she was 16. Society frowned on women who rode motorcycles in the early 20th century when Stringfield was born, and the elders in her family did not approve, which led to a break with relatives. She worked as a domestic in Miami and then became a certified nursing assistant.

According to columnist Bea Hines of The Miami Herald, Stringfield was a colorful character to interview, telling of her feats and how she preferred much younger men. She said she had been married six times. Hines remembered that Stringfield would lead a pack of male motorcyclists in an annual parade that he was “in awe of this beautiful woman with this big bushy hair under her helmet.”

Stringfield died in 1993.

Info and Photo Source: Wikipedia &  New York Times 

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Stephanie Korney