Bessie! Bessie! Bessie!: Three Women to Know

Bessie! Bessie! Bessie!: Three Women to Know

dream hampton considers three women who share both a name and a special place in her heart

dream hampton

by dream hampton, February 20, 2012

Bessie! Bessie! Bessie!: Three Women to Know

Bessie Stringfield, the "Motorcycle Queen of Miami"

that fact. In the early 1930's...a Black woman...rode her....motorcycle....through the 48 states....8 times. In one of my favorite pictures of Stringfield, she is laying atop her Harley the length of the bike. The truth is, she often had to sleep that way, outdoors, because she was riding cross country in a nation where Black men were confined to lesser quarters and there was no such thing as accommodations for a solo traveling Black woman. Still, I can't imagine her feeling more free than she must have beneath the wide night sky, perched on her beloved motorcycle.

Like Coleman, Bessie Stringfield made a living on her bike competing in stunt shows and cycling races. Beneath a helmet and in layered protective gear, she could pass for a man and she often competed as one, daring the show's organizer's to deny her her prize after she removed her head gear to collect her money. She settled in Miami where she was crowned its motorcycle queen. Harley Davidson sponsored her in races and stunt shows. Bessie rode until she was well into her seventies. Though it's long been a dream and I never felt more at one with the road than in the seat of a motorcycle, I decided not to purchase one  when I became a mother. Still, I know the freedom the adventure of travel affords and I'm ever grateful for the fast and early way Bessie blazed the path of the wide open road. Ever fearless.

dream hampton has written about culture for 20 years. She's a mother, an activist and an award-winning filmmaker. She lives in Detroit. Follow her on Twitter: @dreamhampton

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