Black motorcycle clubs emerged throughout Cali in the 50s & 60s, and fought against racism and stereotypes of the day for their right to live the outlaw biker lifestyle — like the East Bay Dragons, Fresco Rattlers, Outlaw Vagabonds, Defiant Ones; down South in LA were the Choppers, Soul Brothers & of course, the Chosen Few.
via: the selvedge yard
Bessie Stringfield, motorcyclist (1911-1993)
Imagine being a African-American woman motorcyclist riding in the 1930’s around a deeply divided segregated South. Bessie Stringfield did not have to imagine it. She lived it. Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1911, she migrated to Boston only to be orphaned by the age of 5. An Irish woman adopted her and gave the courageous young girl her first motorcycle, while she was in high school. Bessie did not use the name of her adopted Irish mother. She would tell people, “I am not allowed to use it.” At 16 years old, Bessie sat on a 1928 Indian Scout. She had no training at all but her natural gift for riding proved useful.
Bessie is said to have been given the skills to operate the bike because of her relationship with God. She credited “the Man Upstairs” and only Him for showing her how to manipulate the controls. As she put it, “When I get on the motorcycle I put the Man Upstairs on front.” Bessie’s faith carried her through many challenges, she attributed Catholic beliefs and a supportive adoptive mother as her main source of strength.
In Bessie’s lifetime she owned 27 Harleys, traveled to 48 states, rode eight solo cross-country tours, served in the U.S. Army as a motorcycle dispatch rider, became a licensed practical nurse, founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club and once (disguised as a man) she won a flat track race in Miami, FL. Upon removing her helmet, she was denied the prize money but her appetite for life did not go without notice. The press dubbed Bessie as the “Motorcycle Queen of Miami.”
Personally, she suffered the tragic loss of three children and true to her outgoing nature Bessie married and divorced six times. After over 60 years of riding, Bessie Stringfield died in 1993. She was 82. Unwittingly, Bessie blazed a trail for other women to follow. The American Motorcycle Association (AMA) established the Bessie Stringfield Award to recognize women leaders in motorcycling. She balanced more than two wheels. Bessie managed to juggle sexism and racism with a positive, resilient spirit.