Before joining the Great Race of Mercy, Balto was regarded as a lowly “scrub dog.”
Despite Jim Crow laws intended to hold her down, Bessie Stringfield defied the odds by riding a motorcycle across the United States at a time when such a thing was unheard of for individuals like her.
Bessie Stringfield’s background remains a mystery, partly due to Stringfield’s own inconsistency in recounting her own history.
According to some sources, she was born in Jamaica in 1911. Others claim she was born in the United States in 1912. Stringfield’s authorized biographer, Ann Ferrar, agreed to continue telling folktales about her own upbringing since she had been requested to “tell her truth as her friend.”
Stringfield was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and was abandoned by her father before being adopted by an Irish-Catholic woman in Boston, according to one of her claims. Stringfield’s niece, Esther Bennett, rejects this claim, claiming that Stringfield’s parents lived in North Carolina and reared her. “I’m not familiar with Jamaican culture.” She claims she was never adopted.
Springfield may have lied about her early life because she was “running from her early background” and didn’t want it to detract from what she had accomplished later in life, according to Ferrar.
In truth, nothing can compare to what Springfield accomplished during her lifetime. Her mother gave her her first motorcycle when she was 16 years old, and the brave young woman taught herself how to ride it.
This early achievement would set the tone for the rest of Stringfield’s life. Stringfield rode her motorcycle across the United States from 1929 until her death in 1993.
Bessie Stringfield’s Adventures
At the age of 19, Bessie Stringfield began her cross-country tour by hogging. She determined her destination by flipping a cent onto a map of the country, and she was gone. She was the first African-American woman known to have traveled to all 48 states in the continental United States on a motorcycle by 1930.
Stringfield’s achievement is all the more astounding given the fact that the odds against her participating in any activity as liberating as autonomously flying across the country were stacked against her. Stringfield was already well into her journey when the civil rights movement began, and she suffered a great deal of discrimination along the way.
Jim Crow laws and racial discrimination, as related through Ferrar in Stringfield’s book, made it impossible for her to remain in most motels. “If you were black, you wouldn’t be able to find a place to stay.” I had faith that the Lord would look after me, and He did. I’d stick with black people if I came upon them. “If I didn’t have a place to stay, I’d sleep at gas stations on my Harley,” Stringfield added. “Back then, colored folks couldn’t stay in hotels or motels. But it didn’t worry me.”
Stringfield maintained her two-wheeled independence throughout, despite the most adversity. Stringfield worked as a civilian motorbike dispatcher for the US military during WWII, and she was the only woman in her unit.
Miami’s “Motorcycle Queen”
Bessie Stringfield was a thrill seeker who married and divorced six times in her life. When it came time for her to settle down, she chose Miami.
She became a nurse there in the 1950s, but she wanted to keep her two-wheeling tradition alive. Police, on the other hand, made it obvious that they would not allow a black lady to ride her bike about town, and thus denied her a license.
Stringfield, on the other hand, wanted a meeting with the police chief, who happened to be a white motorcycle cop, according to her account. He took her to a park and challenged her to a series of tough motorcycle maneuvers. Stringfield, of course, landed them all.
“I didn’t have any problems with the cops after that, and I obtained my license as well,” Stringfield added. She was dubbed the “Motorcycle Queen of Miami” at the time, and she deservedly so.
Stringfield eventually had a persistent heart ailment, yet she refused to stop riding despite physicians’ cautions. She didn’t stop till she died in 1993, at the age of 82.