Bessie Stringfield│Biography, Memoir, African American, Gender
Previews: The Biography of a Daring Black Motorcycle Queen Who Rode Across America

My African American
Queen of the Road

The Untold Story of Bessie Stringfield and Me

 

A Memoir of Race, Friendship,
Resilience and the Road

© By Ann Ferrar

Prototype WITH Watermark, Hawk border

All content (text and visuals) on this website Copyright © 1993 - 2019, Ann Ferrar. Ann Ferrar is the author-originator, primary source and sole rights-holder of this material, its previous variations, and the oral history of Bessie Stringfield recorded by the author. Library of Congress Registration Numbers TX0004341049; TX8473178; TXU2088760; and 1-635-1434791. The author reserves all rights to her works and properties, including her stories in books, online biographies, periodical articles, oral readings, interviews and original research, other essential content, and visuals. This website contains previews of the authorized biography of Bessie Stringfield, My African American Queen of the Road—The Untold Story of Bessie Stringfield and Me, a Memoir of Race, Friendship, Resilience and the Road. Ferrar's stories, story elements, perspectives and approaches to the story of Bessie Stringfield must not be pirated, imitated, adapted to other media, duplicated, scanned, stored or otherwise plagiarized in any media. More key guidelines on copyright and intellectual property are at bottom and in pop-up box. Thank you for respecting the author and the wishes of Bessie Stringfield.

Prelude: Ann Ferrar on Writing Bessie's Truth
Behind the Authorized Biography of a Daring Motorcycle Queen

Bessie Stringfield (1911-1993) was an exceptional woman of color and a motorcycling pioneer who rose above racial and gender barriers in the pre-Civil Rights era. Bessie toured the USA eight times on her vintage Harleys and was a World War II courier. Relying on her courage, resourcefulness and faith, she rode alone on primitive roads despite the risks to lone female travelers. She faced the obstacles and dangers imposed on African Americans in the era of segregation. Bessie Stringfield was a black motorcycle queen who rode across America when it was rare for any woman, and unprecedented for a woman of color. Bessie logged at least a million miles over more than six decades of riding. I had the good fortune to call her my mentor and friend in the later years of her life.

 

Here, I tell the backstory of how I met Bessie Stringfield in 1990, preserved her story as an act of remembrance, and became her biographer in fulfillment of a promise. From the seed of a writer's remembrance, Bessie gradually rose in stature from a local Miami figure to a posthumous global legend. Yet she is as enigmatic as she is admirable, occupying a place that straddles lore and reality. So, in response to the stream of emails I receive from readers, this website contains previews of what is, in effect, the authorized biography of Bessie Stringfield. I have chosen to write the book by combining two literary forms, biography and memoir. I call it My African American Queen of the Road—The Untold Story of Bessie Stringfield and Me, A Memoir of Race, Friendship, Resilience and the Road.

A photo in Bessie Stringfield's biography book
Bessie Stringfield and author Ann Ferrar, August 1990. At Bessie's request and with her blessing, thus began Ann’s work to preserve the elder's legacy exclusively on tape and in Ann’s original stories, published in print and online from 1993 to the present day.

In the 1950s and ’60s, Bessie had two monikers among locals in her home base of Miami, Florida. Depending on who was talking, she was the Negro Motorcycle Queen and later the Motorcycle Queen of Miami, where unabashedly, she rode her Harleys around town. Sometimes Bessie had a group of black male riders in her wake; they were members of the former Iron Horse Motorcycle Club, which she founded and led in the 1960s. Today, Bessie Stringfield is regarded as a socially and culturally significant figure to a new generation that is inspired by her bravery as a woman of color and by her defiance of traditional gender roles.

 

When Bessie and I became friends late in her life, she asked me to preserve and write her story. We could not have known that in 2017, Bessie would be the subject of a viral video that earned 20 million views on a venue called Facebook. We did not imagine that thousands of women would assemble for motorcycle rides named after her. We did not foresee that someday, trustees of a heritage museum would bestow achievement awards in her name. And we could not have predicted that in 2018, The New York Times would recognize Bessie with an obituary in a series on notable yet overlooked women of color. A quarter-century after Bessie's death, all this and more has come to pass.

On social media and in emails I receive from readers here and abroad, people are in awe of Bessie's daring. Some say things like, “Wow, Bessie was a badass woman!” I get it. Bessie was strong and the word reflects today’s movement for women’s empowerment. Women of color have told me they feel an emotional connection to Bessie. They view her as a symbol of freedom and a role model for being unapologetically black. "Rise and Ride" has become a powerful sentiment among a new generation of black women riders who see themselves as torch-bearers of Bessie's legacy. Some of these women view Bessie as an avatar of who they aspire to be.

 

Bessie Stringfield chose to exercise her freedom and express her individuality on motorcycles, but clearly, her achievements and legacy transcend the sport. Yet Bessie died before the vast majority of her 21st-century admirers had ever heard of her, and before many of her millennial fans were born. And so, who was she, really? Despite her posthumous fame, the flesh-and-blood Bessie Stringfield remains a mysterious figure, alluringly unknown. But she was not unknown to me. That is because with Bessie’s blessing and encouragement, I recorded her oral history exclusively on a series of audio tapes during the last three years of her life, becoming the only author—the only person—to record the voice and the stories of Bessie Stringfield as told directly by the woman herself.

 

Bessie gave me the gift of her life story and had me promise to keep her legacy alive in my writings. I gave her the gift of remembrance, and over these many years, I have kept that promise quietly. But now, staying quiet is no longer possible, given the inquiries I receive about Bessie and the global curiosity about her. So, let me finally step out and introduce myself: I am the storyteller, the messenger and the interpreter, if you will, behind much of what is known about Bessie Stringfield today. Most of the available information on Bessie can be traced back to my seminal stories, which are copyrighted works dating back to the early 1990s.

Bessie and I first met in the summer of 1990, about three years before her death. I was 35. At 79, Bessie was two generations older than me, an age difference of 44 years. Bessie had been riding motorcycles for more than six decades. On 27 Harleys and one Indian Scout, she had traveled those million miles in all kinds of conditions. By today's standards, Bessie's bikes were primitive. Some circumstances she found herself in were treacherous because of the rutted, muddy roads; others were treacherous because of racial prejudice in the mid-20th century South. However, not all of Bessie's experiences involved struggle; she enjoyed bonds with all kinds of people. During difficult or dangerous times, Bessie drew upon her faith in her deity and constant companion, known to her as the Man Upstairs. She had a wellspring of quiet courage, resilience and an ability to form diverse friendships.

 

The setting for our first encounter could not have been more apropos. It was a niche motorcycle museum in Pickerington, Ohio, the heart of the country as it were. In a modest exhibit on female bikers, a hand-drawn portrait of Bessie was part of the display. I was there doing research for Hear Me Roar: Women, Motorcycles and the Rapture of the Road (NY: Crown, 1996). That was my debut book of narrative non-fiction, in which I explored this little-known facet of women's mobility and gender role-reversal throughout the 20th century.

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As I grew to know Bessie and peer into her past, I became impressed with her nerve and resourcefulness. She took control of the handlebars as a long-distance motorcycle rider in an era when it was rare for any woman, and unheard-of among African American women. With her wanderlust, Bessie had strayed far from her station, taking risks in defiance of worried and disapproving relatives in the Southern USA, where she was from. Bessie skirted limits placed on race and gender to lead an unconventional life. But I found it almost equally impressive that she slid seamlessly back into traditional "feminine" roles in order to get by.

 

On that first day at the museum, we began exchanging stories as we stood in front of the hand-drawn portrait of Bessie in her youth. I had arrived by motorcycle with a club called Women in the Wind. I wore goggles pulled up over my head—much like the museum portrait of the younger Bessie. Except the biggest challenge I'd faced that day on the road was the wind whipping my flying hair into my mouth.

 

Very quickly I perceived that the elderly woman with whom I was speaking had risen above obstacles that might have defeated a weaker person. I perceived that long before the Civil Rights and women’s movements, Bessie had already stood up and bucked convention in a society where suppression of both women and blacks was the cultural “norm.” I knew there was nothing “normal” about this elder despite her diminutive, unassuming appearance. The brief paragraph on the museum wall could never convey what Bessie Stringfield was all about nor reach a broad audience. I became determined to write about Bessie more expansively, with my own perspectives, research and sequence of thought, with the goal of bringing her out into the open. With Bessie's encouragement, cooperation and friendship, that's exactly what I did.

Ann Ferrar at the Black Hills Motor Classic, Sturgis, SD, 1990
<br>© Ann Ferrar, may not be used without permission.
Ann Ferrar at the Black Hills Motor Classic, Sturgis, SD, 1990
© Ann Ferrar, may not be used without permission.

Over the last three years of her life, 1990 to early 1993, Bessie and I talked about how we were each in our prime during our most adventurous, respective road trips. But our journeys and defiance of convention were half-a-century apart and we were each treated differently by society because of our skin colors. That is why race is one of the threads in the story of Bessie Stringfield and me. The story cannot be conveyed in a meaningful way without it.

 

In my close-up view, Bessie Stringfield was both a product of her era, yet simultaneously, she was ahead of her time. She was a solo act of contradictions who became a Roman Catholic, but married and divorced six times. I knew that the younger Bessie had been bold and even audacious, and that she had certainly withstood—and overcome—her share of racial prejudice. Yet she did not allow society's limited views of African Americans to define or limit her, or the way she interacted with other people who did not look like her.

 

My forthcoming book explores the experiences of two different women who bonded and dug in our heels against the pull of our families' ethnic and social traditions. Bessie's racial heritage actually was mixed and took hold in the Southern USA, with strong influences of Black Baptist in humble beginnings in the Jim Crow era. She later became a Catholic. My ancestral roots were in Southern Italy and equally humble. I am the granddaughter of Ellis Island immigrants, born into Catholicism in a post-World War II, working class Italian American family in Brooklyn, New York. What two women could be more ostensibly mismatched? Still, we connected.

Photos are from the collection of Ann Ferrar. May not be used without permission.

Bessie and I took to the open road in two different periods of time. Yet for each of us, our motorcycles were a timeless expression of freedom and exhilaration. They were also an exercise in daring, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Choosing a motorcycle to feel alive and to seek adventure comes with placing oneself in a vulnerable spot, especially for women riding alone. But if I was at risk for bodily injury or death, or harm at the hands of other people, the risks to Bessie were much greater because of her skin color and the times in which she was traveling.

 

Bessie Stringfield didn’t live to see herself in any of my stories. When she died in 1993, I wrote "Bessie Stringfield: A Tribute to a Life-Long Harley Girl." In essence it was a eulogy, published as an article in American Iron Magazine. It introduced Bessie to Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycle devotees in North America and abroad. This was followed by my story "Bessie B. Stringfield: The Color Blue,which introduced Bessie to a much wider global audience when it was published in two editions of my book  Hear Me Roar (1996; 2000).

 

When Bessie was inducted to the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2002, my stories formed the speech that was recited to the audience at her induction ceremony, which took place at the museum where Bessie and I first met. Since that day, excerpts from both my longer and abridged works have been posted at different times on the website of the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum, where they have been read and referenced by thousands ever since. That is why today, most of what is known about Bessie Stringfield can be traced back to my original stories with my line of thought on the significance of Bessie's achievements. (Currently, only an abridged version is posted.)

As word of Bessie spread exponentially around cyberspace, I stayed under the radar, observing the curiosity and enthusiasm that took hold of a new generation in search of heroines and heroes. Even though I fulfilled my promise to Bessie long ago, now there is more for me to dofor readers who do remember me as the author-originator of the stories on Bessie, for new viewers of the viral video, for students who write to me, and for industry professionalsfrom various media and the arts to museums and academicsall of whom have contacted me to express their fascination with Bessie and their desire to know more.

BESSIE Electra Glide

The widespread interest in Bessie Stringfield today is a clear indication of her social and cultural import in this generation's quest to discover and learn from accomplished hidden figures from the past, particularly those of color. The first viral video on Bessie earned 20 million views and spawned several spin-offs, which are still being shared on social media among thousands of new viewers today. One of the videos is posted later on this website.

 

I have heard from readers from across a wide range of the social, cultural and educational landscape, from the USA and Canada to Europe (England, Spain, France, Germany) and Down Under (Australia, New Zealand). The first video, posted on Facebook by Timeline in late December 2016, shows only her youthful, rebellious sass in two-and-a-half minutes. But the untold Bessie Stringfield whom I knew was a multi-dimensional woman who cannot be captured in sound bites or frozen in captions. The "rebel icon" (as she was labeled by Timeline) grew older and was not free of flaws and regrets, nor of secrets and painful memories.

 

Bessie asked me not to write about certain things until well after her death. I respected her wishes, keeping parts of the story at the bottom of an allegorical memory box for a quarter-century. In 2018, one frustrated reader wrote to tell me that I'm equally responsible for what is not known about Bessie Stringfield. Fair enough. Even The New York Times couldn't pry certain things out of me for their obituary. No matter the short-term consequences, I wasn't going to reveal the untold parts of an exclusive, primary-sourced story for a newspaper piece to be reported by someone else.

 

Bessie was a role model, a friend and even a muse. At the same time, I acknowledge something Bessie had in common with most heroines, heroes and with the rest of us: flaws and conflicts. My book is taking a deeper look at those. I have a balanced view of the complex woman who is the object of everyone's questions. This website is a selected preview of what is to come; it is not the place for me to peel away the layers. Since I knew the woman personally, my approach combines biography and memoir, each with my own views and creative stamp. Being a writer and a biker who earned Bessie's trust, I am the only person to whom Bessie gave her life story and whom she allowed to record to her. Thus, the story is unique and cannot be written by anyone else.

The title and subtitle for the upcoming book didn’t come to me overnight. My African American Queen of the Road—The Untold Story of Bessie Stringfield and Me, A Memoir of Race, Friendship, Resilience and the Road came after a long period of thought about the message I want to convey. The titles reflect admiration for Bessie, our experiences of womanhood and our lives on the road as women in a mostly white- and male-dominated arena. This time, I am writing about Bessie Stringfield from a deeper and more personal perspective, that of two different womenone elder, one younger, one black, one whitewho shared an unusual kinship. Our friendship transcended racial, ethnic, regional and generational differences. Bessie and I recognized each other as stubborn, imperfect women. We did not abide by our families' dictates, so our choices led to challenges we each had to face alone, hers being much harder than mine.

35a07f4d-f59e-416a-be1c-af552c1c5023Ann with packed bike at AMA Museum sign

I had a lot to learn from Bessie and she was happy to teach it, pleased when I hung on her every word. She became like my surrogate aunt in some ways. Often I called her Aunt Bessie, Aunt B, or My Bessie, and she loved it. Sometimes I took to her nickname, BB, the initials for Bessie Beatrice, her first and middle names. She called me Ann or Miss Ann in the Southern tradition. In biker tradition, she gave me a nickname, too: Opal, for the blue-white stone that changes colors with the light, "just like your moods," she once quipped. Bessie reserved Opal for times when I was not at my best. There came a surprising day when Aunt B sent me a ring with a small opal stone. I still wear it on blue or daunting days. I regard the ring as a way of conjuring Bessie’s strength and resilience. (In fact, an earlier working title for the book was Ebony, Opal and Chrome.)

Womenregardless of racehave told me they view Bessie as a symbol of pride in gender and a bucking of traditional roles, reflecting appreciation for more overlooked women taking their place in the pantheon. Men write to tell me they are impressed by Bessieshe represents the underdog who made the upset victory. I am heartened to know that Bessie Stringfield's courage and determination have inspired so many in this generation, and that my stories and perspectives on Bessie have such great relevance today. But for all of her nerve as depicted in Timeline's "rebel icon" videos, I want my readers to know that Bessie was equally brave as an elder when facing serious challenges of a different kind. That is what made me cherish her.

I was moved when Bessie asked me to write her biography. I promised her I would preserve and write her story and her truth. This is how I came to be Bessie’s biographer and the primary source on her life. Even so, due to the pass-along nature of the web, in many cases my name has been lost or gone unnoticed as the author-originator of most of the material on Bessie that is circulating todayso much so, that quotes and anecdotes from our talks and my stories have been repeated on the web without citation of the source, as if Bessie had been speaking aloud to no one.

 

Bessie Stringfield has become so symbolic as a role model that she has attained near-mythical status among some social media and rider groups. Yet Bessie’s posthumous, 21st century fame should pose a puzzling question: How could a late Miami woman become the subject of a viral video, the object of hundreds of Google hits, a symbol of women's empowerment and racial pride a quarter-century after her death—and yet still remain a mystery to admirers who see her that way? Despite the Internet's voracity and its sense of entitlement for easy, quick information, the answer precedes the web. It began in the early 1990s with the medium of print, in fact, the most low-tech form of it: cursive script on paper. There are no point-and-click shortcuts to that.

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Photos are from the collection of Ann Ferrar. May not be used without permission.

During her lifetime, Bessie Stringfield was not a public figure by any stretch. At different times and under different names, she was known to her husbands, friends, coworkers, churchgoers and a select group of bikers in Miami-Dade. In her youth she was known to certain relatives, from whose lives she disappeared without leaving a trail. Yet even with these people coming in and out of her life, Bessie kept her cards close to her chest. Beneath her charm, there was always an element of the unknown. The planting of the seeds of remembrance and recognition of Bessie's legacy began with two women: her and me. I knew Bessie during a slow, reflective time in her later life when her health had greatly declined. She knew she was facing her mortality and was quietly preparing for it.

 

Like many frail elderly people when reliving their distant past, Bessie shared meandering, circular memories with me. I never asked Bessie to "sit" for me so I could do my audio recordings all at once, and certainly not in a formal setting. We weren’t doing Meet the Press. I conducted the recorded interviews over time, with lots of informal contact in between, during which time I penned my impressions in my spiral-bound journals. Bessie's mind wandered, so she did not tell stories in a complete or linear order. Patiently, I read between the lines of her fragmented speech and learned, Never underestimate the mind and motives of this uncanny elder.

 

With empathy for Bessie and my years of writing and editing experience, I structured and crafted the raw primary material of Bessie’s meandering memories into a storyline, or plot. With my own approach and my own sequence of thought, I interpreted, or translated, the raw material into narrative works of prose. Thus, embedded in my narratives from the early to mid-1990s are my creative and intellectual stamps, which encompass my perspectives and conclusions on Bessie’s achievements and her choices in the context of her times. This is how Bessie Stringfield became the heroine and protagonist of my stories in print, and later, online. None of this literary material on Bessie had ever existed before.

 

Next, enter the Internet explosion. Beginning in 2002, both detailed and abridged versions of my stories on Bessie were posted at different times on the website of the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame. My stories and/or parts of them were spread anonymously by others on the web, most often in the form of aggregates, and often with errors. Then came the viral video produced by Timeline and posted on Facebook in late December, 2016. It was shared among an astonishing 20 million viewers who learned of Bessie for the first time. This sequence of events is how Bessie Stringfield gradually went from hidden figure to becoming recognized as the inspirational figure that people can read about today, in venues like the Heroine Collective, Broadly.vice.com, the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum, the Times obituary, and web encyclopedias. (Note that in these places, conflicting statements on her birth year and biological parents' names did not stem from me.)

 

During our friendship, I came to feel that Bessie needed a title, even if just between us two. I thought of her as My African American Queen of the Road, though until this website I never used it in print. One day, when I trotted that title out in conversation, Bessie cackled with glee and bemusement. Characteristically, she said, “If you say I am a queen in your mind, I won’t take away how you feel. But if I am any kind of queen, it is because Jesus put me there. He is the King. His mother Mary is The Queen. I know those Dominican nuns in Brooklyn taught you that.”

Author Better Sturgis crop more of Harley

True enough. The nuns of St. Edmund grammar school also drill-instructed the lost art of penmanship, a futile effort on their part with me. Even as a kid, my scrawling was barely legible since it could never keep up with my racing thoughts, then or now. Still, for me there has always been something intimate about the relationship of thoughts and words to pen and paper. Thus, the remembrance of Bessie's life and legacy began with the quiet scribbling of a single penliterally—on blank sheets of legal paper. I wrote her eulogy for American Iron and first drafts of Bessie Stringfield: The Color Blue and other stories for Hear Me Roar in longhand (cursive script) on yellow legal pads.

While writing and musing on Bessie, I sipped endless cups of coffee as I sat in a window booth at Socrates, my favorite Greek diner in Tribeca in Lower Manhattan. Often, my motorcycle was parked on the sidewalk of Franklin Street within my line of sight. I lived in Tribeca in the 1980s till the mid-1990s, when it was still a fairly desolate neighborhood of creative people like me who did not fit into a 9-to-5 mold. The diner (now gone due to gentrification) was my way of "eating out" on my income from freelance writing and my day job as a writer for a non-profit foundation. After the diner, I returned to my apartment and fine-tuned my longhand drafts in my buzzy computer with its box-shaped monitor and floppy disks. In 1993, I snail-mailed Bessie Stringfield: A Tribute to a Life-Long Harley Girl to American Iron. I took the subway uptown to bring the floppies with Bessie B. Stringfield: The Color Blue and, eventually, all of Hear Me Roar to Crown Publishing, an imprint of Random House.

Fast-forward to today. Despite her posthumous fame, Bessie remains mysterious for a simple reason: I haven’t released more information about her yet. It’s still tucked away in the audio tapes that I recorded, in the pages of my journals and in a few other hidden places. From the wide-ranging interest that I’ve received, I know that Bessie's story of determination has struck a chord with a new generation. This same generation is standing up over race and gender issues on a scale not seen since the heights of the Civil Rights and women's movements (1950s through the 1970s). So it's not surprising that Bessie has become symbolic in raising awareness ofand pride inrace and gender today.

Fascination with Bessie is so strong that parts of her story concerning her birth and childhood have stirred up some debate and speculation. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, Bessie's racial heritage actually was mixed. She lived her life as a black woman, yet spontaneously she brought up that her birth mother had been white. Bessie's childhood was complicated as she described it to me. I've seen the adjective Dickensian in articles compiled decades after her death from secondary and tertiary material.

 

In 2018 when The New York Times inquired about discrepancies in Bessie's early life, I could not bring myself to discuss certain things Bessie had entrusted to me. Knowing Bessie on an emotional level, I viewed them as difficult areas and parts of her untold story that need to be handled with the personal care, nuance and context that only a long-form memoir and biography can allow. The paper's short article dubbed them "untruths," an unfortunate consequence. Either way, readers must wait for the book for a trip into Bessie's labyrinth. Sorting her out retrospectively is an impossible task for those who never met her and who cannot discern her mindset.

Bessie2-1990-BEST-closeup-cap-wHD-wings-new

Photos are from the collection of Ann Ferrar. May not be used without permission.

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Why did Bessie ask me to write her biography? For starters, Bessie believed that the Man Upstairs ordained everything; to her, there were no coincidences. To understand Bessie Stringfield is to understand that she never felt only a black woman could write her story. She surrounded herself with diverse friends and romantic partners. The first thing Bessie intuited was the old soul in me, born of my Italian American tradition of holding one’s elders on high. I was also a biker who understood and identified with Bessie on that tomboy level. Plus, I was a female author with a track record of writing about women for newspaper syndication and for national magazines (including a mutual heroine, Aretha Franklin, whom I interviewed shortly after I met Bessie). So it made sense that Bessie entrusted me with her story.

Bessie also came to realize that I saw something in her that her peers in the African American community did not see. They were impressed with her for being a black woman riding a Harley boldly around town, or in today's parlance, they were proud of her for being unapologetically black. I, on the other hand, was a 35-year-old New Yorker in the prime of my own womanhood and writing career. I had a more expansive view of this maverick woman. I didn’t see Bessie as a local treasure or a source of pride reserved only for the black community, or as an eccentric destined for Florida folklore. In the words of a mutual friend from the northeast, "Bessie had gravitas. You don't forget a person like that."  Indeed. I saw Bessie Stringfield as an undiscovered feminist who had predated the women's movement. And while Bessie was not a Civil Rights marcher, I believed that by her choices and her actions, she was, in effect, a role model for the social and civil rights of women, especially women of color. From the beginning, my writings on Bessie have reflected this perspective. Today's generation concurs with this view; it has been paraphrased by others in countless aggregates on the web.

As a senior, Bessie was still riding Harleys for as long as she was physically able, but for the last decade of her life, she  gradually retreated as her social circle dwindled. As her health declined, she was forced to retreat from the road as well. Toward the end of her life, Bessie thought about what legacy she wanted to leave. That's when I walked into her life with my pen, notepad, tape recorder andmost vitallymy inherent respect for her elder status and all she had been through. Ultimately, this is why Bessie trusted and was comfortable with me, an urban white woman from New York. Where have I been all this time since her passing? I’ve been living my life with its share of challenges, a mostly hidden figure myself.

 

Bessie's story continues to fascinate readers. Through the years I have granted selected interviews, beginning with Jed Stevenson of The New York Times in 1996. His article, called Hear Me Roar: A Woman's Symphony on the Road, discusses my work on Bessie and other early women bikers, and is in the paper's archives. Throughout the 2000s and the recent 2010s, I have been contacted by media that range from CNBC's Jay Leno's Garage and Harley-Davidson's century-old Enthusiast magazine, to the webzine Black Girls Ride and the venue Broadly.vice.com, aimed at "women, gender non-conformists and LGBT's." Recognition of Bessie Stringfield could not possibly come from a more diverse audience than that.

Documentary filmmakers have reached out to me, including the production company behind Glory Road: The Legacy of the African American Motorcyclist and a series called American Biker. These aired on PBS and The History Channel around the time of Bessie’s Hall of Fame induction; they are now on a streaming service. I have contributed to museum exhibits with sections on pioneering women bikers, Bessie typically being the center of attention. In each of these projects, I donated my time and contributions.

 

Clearly, Bessie Stringfield’s time is now. Culturally and historically significant figures tend to take their place in history only after enough time has passed to enable perspective and appreciation. That is the case with Bessie Stringfield. And with the wisdom and maturity borne of persistence and overcoming challenges in my own life, it’s my time as an author again, too.

Stringfield1 popular pic standing w bike (palm tree1)

Bessie Stringfield has a unique legacy for her courage, individuality and exemplary achievements in the face of prejudice based on race and gender. I have a legacy for mine as the author-originator who noticed. I knew Bessie was so singular that I could not allow her legacy to die with her. On the day I met her in 1990, I did not see merely an elderly woman. I saw an elder who represented a slice of hidden living history that needed to be captured before it was too late. On the weight of friendship, trust and a promise fulfilled, I am the only living primary source for the complete spectrum of the life of Bessie Stringfield, for what is known and as-yet untold.

 

I'd like to share a sentiment from another strong and resilient woman, rocker Melissa Etheridge. She was quoted in a book called A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives by Lisa Congdon. In the book, Etheridge said: "We are getting older, and we are getting wiser, and we are getting freer. And when you get the wisdom and the truth, then you get the freedom and you get power, and thenlook out. Look out.On that resounding note, I invite my readers to continue this literary ride with previews of two very unusual biker chicks. — Ann Ferrar

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