A Woman to Know: Bessie Stringfield

I can remember being in awe of this beautiful black woman with this big bushy hair under her helmet. — Bea Hines

(image via American Motorcycle Association)

On the clock, she worked as a housekeeper and nursing assistant. Off the clock, she tore through Miami on her beloved Harley Davidson.

Before moving to the Sunshine State, Bessie traveled solo throughout the continental United States, competing in carnivals and motorcycle shows. She bought a fringed leather jacket to complete the look and checked eight Harley trips off her bucket list. But discrimination against women riders — especially black women riders, of which there were then very few — followed her everywhere. She told friends that those shows she won would frequently deny her payment or winnings, even after she triumphed over white male riders fair and square.

But in Miami, Bessie and her bike became legendary local figures. Before she died in 1993, a group of Floridian riders welcomed Bessie into the fold. They hailed her as the"Motorcycle Queen of Miami. She led a parade of Harley riders every year.

Now, the American Motorcycle Association grants a "Bessie Stringfield" award every year, given to the winner who brings motorcycling to new audiences.

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