African American Queen of the Road
The Original Stories of Bessie B. Stringfield
Narratives of Resilience and the Road by Ann Ferrar
The original stories of Bessie Stringfield, African American motorcycling pioneer, were written by journalist and former biker Ann Ferrar in the 1990s. The author's narratives shed light on Bessie's hidden life and achievements in the pre-Civil Rights era of the United States. They sparked the global fascination with Bessie that exists to this day. Here is a retrospective of those stories, along with previews of the author's upcoming books.
© Copyright-registered and protected material. Ann Ferrar reserves all rights to this content and to her earlier stories of Bessie Stringfield, all of which comprise her intellectual property. The author's stories, past and present, are not in the public domain. Detailed copyright notice is posted at bottom; please lawfully adhere to restrictions therein.
Ann Ferrar's stories of Bessie Stringfield were borne of the exclusive sound recordings of Bessie, conducted and recorded by the author for her 1996 debut book "Hear Me Roar: Women, Motorcycles and the Rapture of the Road." Taped during the women's friendship in the early 1990s, these are the only recordings of the late Bessie Stringfield in existence. Akin to melody and lyrics in a song, Bessie's quotes and anecdotes in all of Ferrar's stories—those past and present—are copyright-protected. And like the original arrangement and interpretation of the song, all of Ferrar's narratives bear the author's creative stamp and are copyright-protected as well.
Here, read the backstory of the legacy pact between the two women that led to the author's story "Bessie B. Stringfield: The Color Blue." First published in "Hear Me Roar" and again in the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame, this piece and others by Ferrar have inspired a new generation that recognizes Bessie's courage in breaking through racial and gender barriers in the era of segregation. Ferrar's works are the only original, authentic, primary-sourced stories on the life and times of Bessie Stringfield in Jim Crow America and beyond. Bessie was a private woman, a hidden figure until the two women met and Ferrar began documenting and writing her life with Bessie's permission.
A new book is coming this year: A 25th anniversary edition of "Hear Me Roar" looking back on Bessie and other daring female bikers from the USA in the acclaimed book. Next, Ann Ferrar's long-awaited biographical memoir devoted solely to Bessie will be released. The second book includes as-yet untold parts of Bessie's life, known only to Bessie and Ann. Watch these pages for future announcements.
A Woman on the Road Amid Challenges of Race and Gender
My Original Stories on the Hidden Life of Bessie Stringfield
By Ann Ferrar
I met and befriended Bessie B. Stringfield in 1990, three years before the end of her long life. At age 79, Bessie was thin as a wisp and tiny at less than five feet. She was barely recognizable from the young, robust black woman biker she had been in her prime. Yet there was something about Bessie that drew me to her and made me look past the frailty of her old age. Bessie had been born into a modest home in the southeastern region of America in 1911. In my eyes, she had an aura even as an elderly woman. I saw that beneath her age and fragility, her spirit and strength still resided in the present moment.
Bessie told me that in her younger years, she rode her Harley-Davidson motorcycles across the United States eight times, alone except for her deity and constant companion, Jesus, whom she called the Man Upstairs. Even with divine providence, I was in awe that Bessie had made these solo road trips in the pre-Civil Rights era of the mid-20th century, when racial prejudice was a threat to her safety. I knew instantly that I would write her courageous life.
Bessie Stringfield was a hidden figure, unknown to the larger public and overlooked even by black and women's historians. But she was not unknown to me. And so, with Bessie's blessing and encouragement, I devoted myself to shedding light on her achievements. Bessie did not live to see herself in any of my stories. The first one I wrote was her eulogy when she passed away in 1993.
In my stories, I described how over 60 years, Bessie racked up about a million miles on the 27 Harleys and one Indian Scout motorcycle that she owned and rode in her lifetime. I described Bessie's favorite mode of travel, known as "gypsy touring." In the 1930s and beyond, she planned her routes—NOT!—by tossing a penny over a map and riding to wherever it landed. Suffice it to say that in Jim Crow America, with its "no coloreds allowed" signs marring the country, gypsy touring was not the safest mode of travel for African Americans at that time.
Here, I look back on some of my most well-known stories of Bessie Stringfield, what she meant and still means to me as a role model and the elder woman who became like my surrogate aunt, as well as my muse. I explore what Bessie means to a new generation that is inspired by her courage and determination in the face of odds that were against her. My early short-form narratives about Bessie Stringfield sparked the global fascination and admiration for her that extends into the 21st century. Especially since this website went up, I have heard from readers from around the world, from New York to New Zealand, ranging from schoolchildren of generation Z to seniors who remember their own lives in the Jim Crow era. Clearly, Bessie Stringfield's legacy far transcends the sport of motorcycling.
All photos are from the collection of Ann Ferrar and must not be reproduced.
With my first-hand knowledge of the woman, I knew that Bessie's understated bravery and the significance of her achievements in the pre-Civil Rights era could not be conveyed in a meaningful way without exploring how race, gender and social circumstance affected her life. But I had to do it without being preachy. So, I drew upon the dialogue of our exclusive recorded interviews and our many other anecdotal conversations—all of which are copyrighted along with the material I recorded in my journals during our friendship, and all that I further researched to elucidate and commentate on her life.
In my stories, I wrote of how Bessie had navigated her way around restrictions on race despite segregation, and of how she rejected conventions of gender and even familial ties. Bessie turned her back on disapproving relatives who scolded her for such "unladylike" behavior. She left and never saw them again. Instead, she chose a path that was unusual for any woman, and unprecedented for an African American woman. That is how I wrote the life of Bessie Stringfield, and that is the Bessie Stringfield you've heard about today.
"For me, meeting Bessie Stringfield
was like a jolt of electricity, as when you
touch something dormant that you didn't
realize was statically charged."
I wrote of how Bessie dodged a few hard-balls that Jim Crow and even the Klan itself had flung at her along the way. Yet in an era full of threats and restrictions, inwardly I wondered if Bessie was so full of wanderlust that she had given way to reckless abandon. But I simply asked, "What if the penny landed someplace where you knew it might be, or would be, Klan country? Did you do another toss?"
"Nope," she said to me. "A penny makes a wide circle on a map. I could ride anywhere I wanted inside the circle or around the edges if I had to." But then she added, "Nobody killed me, thank God."
As if all of Bessie's audacity wasn't enough, I pointed out to readers that she had made the bulk of her long-distance road trips well before the age of the interstate highways, and when her vintage Harleys, primitive by today's standards, had mechanical issues. Somehow she persevered astride those heavy bikes on many an unpaved, rutted road. I wrote of how Bessie stopped at the odd carnival here and there, where she did trick or "fancy" riding.
My very first story, her eulogy, described how Bessie rode the walls of a vintage motordrome, which is a huge barrel constructed of wood. That story was published as a feature article in American Iron, an international magazine for devotees of Harleys and other American-made motorcycles. I expanded on the eulogy to write a narrative for my 1996 debut book, Hear Me Roar: Women, Motorcycles and the Rapture of the Road. I named the story "Bessie B. Stringfield: The Color Blue," for her favorite color. That story helped Bessie become inducted posthumously to the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame by informing voters of the key highlights of Bessie's achievements and of her character. This year, a 25th anniversary edition of Hear me Roar will be released. It is called African American Queen of the Road: Reflections on Bessie Stringfield and the Women Bikers of Hear Me Roar. Later, my long-awaited biographical memoir devoted solely to Bessie will be released. There are still-hidden aspects of Bessie's life that were known only to her, and which she shared exclusively with me.
The most vital and prescient thing I did to preserve Bessie Stringfield's legacy—and have a solid foundation for my creative writings—was to exclusively record Bessie on audio tape with her formal permission while there was still time. My audio tapes of Bessie are the only sound recordings of the late Bessie Stringfield in existence. As noted earlier, they are copyright-registered in the Library of Congress, but they are not available to the public. They hold the keys to Bessie's life story as I elicited it from her with her blessing and encouragement, as I navigated my way through the labyrinthine paths of her memories, and as I interpreted her life and expanded upon it in my original, published stories.
Thus, Bessie Stringfield's life story and my stories about Bessie's life are inseparable. They are the literary equivalent of conjoined twins, which is why they are not in the public domain. While I have stayed mostly under the radar for the past quarter-century, I have been the quiet steward of the life story and, by extension, the legacy of Bessie Stringfield, as it were. My stories are the only original, authentic, primary-sourced stories covering the full spectrum of this outstanding yet unknown woman's life. In copyright parlance, they are the intellectual and creative property of this author.
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I concluded and wrote that Bessie was an unusual black woman in her era—in any era—who had chosen a path especially challenging for women, not just for breaking with female tradition, but also for somehow managing to choose a free-spirited life path that was not even feasible for most women in her heyday. There was no movement of women for whom Bessie could tear down the floodgates. Large groups of females did not rally behind Bessie on motorcycles. Most African American women, as well as most whites and women of any ethnicity, were not positioned in society to let loose, hop on a Harley and ride away from maternal duties and/or "women's jobs."
It did not escape me, however, that Bessie slid seamlessly back into traditional "feminine" roles when the need arose. Bessie could be the maid, cook, practical nurse and even a nanny to white children at times, but with a twist. Bessie showed up for work on her Harley. Further in my view, the fact that Bessie held jobs as a domestic made her behavior in the flip side of her life all the more risky and daring. I can tell you that Bessie Stringfield was a solo act of contradictions: She became a Roman Catholic but married and divorced six times. Yes, you heard that right: six times.
With good nature I bantered, "Who are you, Miss Hollywood, Elizabeth Taylor?"
"If I had a big diamond, I could be," she quipped back to me. "But I don't need any diamonds. All I need is the Man Upstairs."
All photos are from the collection of Ann Ferrar and must not be reproduced.
When Bessie and I struck up our friendship, I was still living in an apartment in my native New York City, my trusty motorcycle parked in the underground lot beneath my TriBeCa building after a ride. Bessie was in declining health but she was still among us during the first three years of my two-wheeled travels—1990 to 1993—for Hear Me Roar. I finished writing the book in 1995; it was published in 1996 by Crown Trade Paperbacks, an imprint of Random House, and reissued by Whitehorse Press in 2000.
The first time I encountered Bessie was at a motorcycle museum, no less. For me, meeting Bessie Stringfield was like a jolt of electricity, as when you touch something dormant that you didn't realize was statically charged. At age 35, I was more than 40 years younger than Bessie. As a journalist, an avid life-long student of women's and 20th-century American history, I recognized Bessie Stringfield not as a light that had dimmed, but rather as a daring woman of color who had risen above racial and gender barriers in the pre-Civil Rights era. And as a biker, I loved that she had done it from a very unusual and under-appreciated vantage point: the saddles of her motorcycles.
In the early 1950s, Bessie had bought a house in a mostly black community in Miami, Florida, where she would spend the rest of her life. I was born a few years later in Brooklyn, New York, a baby boomer who came of age as a college graduate during the modern women's movement of the 1970s. Thus, I viewed Bessie in another light that her peers in her local African American community did not see: I saw her as an undiscovered feminist who had predated the modern women's movement. Yet when I met her, Bessie Stringfield was a hidden, unheralded figure, unknown to the larger public, undiscovered by African American and women's historians. I said to myself, That isn't right.
From the first day I met her, I saw the elder Bessie as an avatar of living history standing right in front of me, smiling up and talking to me about her unsung past, but in a very understated way. I knew that Bessie—who was nearly invisible as so many elderly women are—had an amazing story to tell. But nobody's ears were attuned to it except for mine. It was the start of a fascinating conversation and a working relationship between us that lasted almost until her passing in early 1993.
"I believed ... the world needed to know
what a kick-ass biker Bessie had been in a
milieu that was largely male and white."
As a biker myself, I believed there was another facet of her story that cried out to be told. The world needed to know what a kick-ass biker Bessie had been in a milieu that was largely male and white. In my stories I wrote of how Bessie handled gender bias when she donned a disguise to join the fray—and win—an all-male flat-track race, but was denied the prize when she took off her helmet. I am the daughter of a World War II veteran and so I was especially awed by how Bessie earned her spot as a civilian courier, or dispatch rider, on the home-front during the Second World War. My stories described how she trained rigorously alongside black men, the only woman in a small unit in the segregated army. I wrote of how she handled her heavy bike on some pretty rough roads to carry documents in her saddlebags among domestic bases.
Then I covered Bessie's escapades in post-World War II Miami, where she settled, founded, and led a group of mostly black men in her Iron Horse Motorcycle Club. Bessie told me she was dubbed by some locals as the "Negro Motorcycle Queen" and later the "Motorcycle Queen of Miami." The Miami PD had a different view of her, at least in the beginning. My stories described how Bessie dealt with hassles from the police and demonstrated to a precinct captain that she had more than enough skills to handle her big bike in traffic.
At the same time, I can tell you that Bessie Stringfield as a person was a mystery. Even with her antics, she was an aloof, fleeting figure wafting past the eyes of onlookers. Bessie kept her cards close to her chest. She was a private citizen—by no means a public figure. She was a private woman who lived mostly by two sets of rules: her own and those of her deity, Jesus. She told me, "I didn't want nobody [sic] knowing my business, except for the Man Upstairs." And thus no one, not even her husbands, really knew what made her tick, nor did they know much about her beyond the version of Bessie standing in front of them at different points in their lives. That is why I was so privileged when Bessie welcomed me into her private life.
I spent time with some of Bessie's closest contemporaries, including her last husband, who corroborated her secretive nature and never questioned it. He confirmed that his wife was never a public figure. Those contemporaries are now deceased. And so, I take my role as the documentarian and steward of Bessie's life story—which would otherwise have been lost—very seriously. In preserving Bessie's worthy life, I am blessed to have known her and those good people, who were so kind and supportive of my mission, even though they had never met me before.
In my view, Bessie's strength, resilience and faith-based courage in the face of bigotry and sexism is what made her so extraordinary. In my works I called Bessie a one-woman civil rights movement. While she was not a marcher, I described how Bessie had chosen an unusual form of freedom—that which can only be felt in the wind on a motorcycle.
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These stories and others about Bessie Stringfield from my original short-form narratives will be included in a 25th anniversary edition of Hear Me Roar. In the anniversary edition, I will reintroduce Bessie and other daring women bikers of the 20th century to a new generation.
During the first three years of my road trips for the original edition of Hear Me Roar, often I phoned Bessie from spartan motel rooms in the evenings. Very quickly we learned what experiences we had in common and what we did not. Bessie and I traded stories of her experiences as a black Southern woman on a persnickety Harley in a segregated era, and mine as a white, Brooklyn-born woman, zooming along the asphalt slabs of America on a high-tech bike. I rode on paved roads and had my pick of motels and diners. I was alone, but not alone in society as Bessie could be when trying to find access even to life's bare necessities in the South.
Throughout my journeys, unlike Bessie, I was never denied lodging, gas or a restaurant meal. Never did I have to ride my mechanically sound bike on a creepy back road as the only route available to avoid the Klan. Never did I have to swerve around beer cans deliberately tossed in my path by rednecks. And unlike Bessie, I was never stalked by a bigot in a pickup truck who ran me off the road, wrecking my bike and scraping me up. This incident, which I related in my early narratives about Bessie, has struck a chord among African American bikers of this generation. They point out that in their experience in some areas of the country, not nearly enough has changed in society today.
I asked Bessie how she got through such times and how she felt about the people who harbored ill intent toward her. Bessie did not need to ponder the answer. "I knew Jesus Christ and I know Him now," she said to me. "Those men did not know Jesus Christ. He was always with me. They couldn't see Him, but I felt Him. Oh, I was tested a few times to find the good in some people. In the end, no matter what happens in our lives, it's got to be about love. That is the final conclusion you must always try to attain."
It is important to note that Bessie's faith and her capacity to love are also why she experienced an abundance of positive, life-affirming encounters with whites and other ethnic people in her 60 years of riding around America. She met many locals who were curious and friendly, and white gas station owners who were both amused and impressed at her "nerve," as she put it. Some even in the South were so taken with Bessie that they filled her tanks for free. I asked Bessie about this many times, to be sure I was hearing her straight, to be sure she wasn't softening the fabric of society for my sake. In the colloquial language of her era, Bessie assured me, "All along the way, wherever I rode, the people was [sic] overwhelmed to see a Negro woman ridin' a motorcycle."
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Still, Bessie told me that in the South she had to look over her shoulder. “If you had black skin, you couldn’t get a place to stay,” she said to me. “I slept with people’s children a lot because no one would rent me a motel room.” I wrote of how sometimes, Bessie slept on her bike at gas stations, using her rolled-up jacket as a pillow across the handlebars, while resting her feet on the rear fender. Bessie gave me this exuberant photo above, along with other vintage pictures snapped at different stages of her life. Here in the photo, she is vamping for the camera, but alone on the road, finding a place to spend the night was a serious matter.
People have asked me, what of the Green Book, the guide for black motorists that began circulating in 1936. Well, not all of those black-friendly motels were welcoming for a single, unescorted woman biker who was doing something so far afield from what was expected of her. Nor were there always lodgings along her penny-toss routes. Nor were some even open when Bessie began her travels.
For me as the author-originator of Bessie's life story, has been fascinating to watch how, from the seeds of my early written stories and spoken narratives about Bessie, over time she rose in stature from hidden figure to posthumous global legend. Her legacy far transcends motorcycling. Today, Bessie Stringfield is regarded as a culturally significant figure to a new generation that recognizes her bravery as a woman of color and her defiance of traditional gender roles. In this 21st-century age of renewed female empowerment, Bessie stands out in this generation's quest to find inspiring hidden figures from the past. Educators and museums have started to notice.
In particular, it has been gratifying to hear from some prominent African American women bikers, who have emailed me to say they feel an emotional connection to Bessie. They view her as a role model of cultural pride and are proud of her for being unapologetically black. Her story inspires them on their own long-distance voyages today. Some of these proud bikers wear shirts with empowering mantras like "rise and ride."
You surely don't have to be black, or a woman, to be inspired by Bessie Stringfield. She never felt that only a black woman write her story. If Bessie had set that boundary, obviously the world wouldn't be aware of her now. Today's African American women bikers have conceded that even they can't imagine how hard it must have been for Bessie to ride alone in the days of Jim Crow. No, indeed not. They had read my stories in which I described how on some nights, Bessie had to sleep on her Harley at gas stations when no one would rent her a room.
Bessie with her bravery certainly deserves every bit of recognition that she has received from readers around the world. I have been asked to speak about her for outlets ranging from Harley-Davidson's century-old Enthusiast magazine, to the German magazine Der Spiegel, to Broadly.vice.com, aimed at the LGBTQ community. Admiration for Bessie could not possibly be more diverse, and concurrently more universal, than that! As the sole recordist, interpreter/writer and steward of Bessie's life story, I am the only knowledgeable primary source for the complete spectrum of Bessie's life, including that which is celebrated, that which is still unpublished and known only to Bessie and me, and even that which is controversial to some today.
Bessie, being a private woman, kept secrets about conflicts in her past, which she chose to escape from. She told everyone she'd been born in Kingston, Jamaica, that she was brought to New England by her biological father and abandoned there. Yet Bessie was born in North Carolina and it was she who left. She asked me not to write about certain difficult things, including this, until well after her death. There is much more material on Bessie in my tapes, in my journals, and in other hidden corners known only to Bessie and me, which I have never released anywhere. I have kept the material at the bottom of an allegorical memory box since her passing. When Bessie gave me the gift of her life story, she asked me not to write about certain sensitive things until well after her death. I have respected her wishes.
My loyalty to Bessie gave rise to a sticking point in 2018 when the New York Times launched its "Overlooked" obituary series, meant to pay belated respects to notable yet overlooked women of color. The Times began searching for candidates in its archives, where they found a 1996 article by their own reporter about Hear Me Roar, which discussed my work on Bessie. (See Stevenson, Jed: "Hear Me Roar, A Woman's Symphony on the Road," New York Times, July 28, 1996). The paper deemed Bessie worthy of being featured in the 2018 "Overlooked" series.
When they asked me to reminisce on Bessie, I would not discuss those private issues that she had entrusted to me. I knew the gray areas of Bessie's early life need to be handled with the nuance and context that only my long-form biography/memoir would allow. And frankly, I was not going to give away the as-yet unreleased parts of my exclusive, primary-sourced story for a short newspaper piece to be reported by someone else! What author-originator would? Unfortunately, the obituary did not leave room on the canvas of Bessie's life for the unpainted parts of her portrait; rather, it simply dubbed the gray areas "untruths." This was picked up and repeated in web encyclopedias with entries that were muddled.
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When I met Bessie she was 79 and in declining health, having cut off all family and marital ties decades earlier. Bessie knew she had a legacy to leave, but there was no one in her small circle to preserve it, nor even anyone who saw the significance of it. That's when I walked into her life with my analog tape recorder, my spiral notebooks, my respect for her elder status, and my passion for keeping Bessie's story alive in the best way that I knew how: through my writing. Bessie gave me a precious gift—the gift of her life story—and asked me to write her biography.
I made her a promise in what we came to see as a personal legacy pact. We were a team, a duet in which she was the raconteur and I was the writer and interpreter of her amazing life. We were like a song-writing duo of lyricist and composer, except our media were the spoken word and my prose writings. In order for me to document and write her hidden life with its labyrinthine pockets, I did what was necessary when a living person was a private citizen, as the unknown Bessie Stringfield was. I obtained from Bessie her life rights. If you have never heard this term before and would like to learn more, please consult authoritative sources. Do not rely on hearsay from those who opine but are uninformed about what actually it means. The term is commonly used in the publishing, film and television fields and among biographers such as myself who believe it's only right that her subject be on board with her project.
I bring this up because there is a wildly mistaken notion about Bessie that has been circulated on the web and social media. It is a false label purveyed by outlets such as Wikipedia and Facebook. These venues have manufactured the long-deceased, previously unknown Bessie Stringfield as a personality and in so doing, they have erroneously dubbed her a "public figure." These false labels are absurd. Bessie is the object of intense public admiration and curiosity, an entirely different thing. Today I have no doubt that Bessie’s soul is enjoying an afterlife with her beloved Man Upstairs, and clearly, she has an afterlife down here via my stories. But in cyberspace, Bessie has been carried to another dimension that is astounding but also disturbing at times. That dimension is posthumous internet fame. It is like a runaway train that rams through town from time to time, nearly derailing the integrity of Bessie's memory and of my copyrighted stories about her.
Today the late Bessie Stringfield deserves all the recognition that eluded her in life; that is precisely why I dedicated myself to documenting and writing her life in the first place. Yet in the age of the internet and social media, posthumous fame is different from the posthumous recognition such as that accorded to Bessie in the New York Times obituary. Facebook and Wikipedia purveyed the notion of belated fame when they mistakenly deemed Bessie a “public figure” entirely because of a 2 ½ minute video montage of still shots and captions set to music. The upbeat video, posted in late 2016 by a small independent production company, framed her as a “rebel icon.” The thing went viral when 20 million viewers clicked on it and loved it. The video is still being shared today.
"It has been gratifying to hear from prominent
African American women bikers who say
they feel an emotional connection to Bessie."
Think about it. Practically overnight, Bessie—or the symbolic version of her—became posthumously famous because a 2 1/2 minute video montage of still shots went viral. This video montage barely scratches the surface of one percent of one one-thousandth of Bessie's life. In the real world of flesh-and-blood mortals, as opposed to one-dimensional icons, Bessie and her achievements were unknown to the mass public in her lifetime. She cannot be a public figure in death, since her life was introduced and written by a single author: this one. The captions in the short video montage were lifted straight out of Hear Me Roar without my prior knowledge and without attribution, purveying the myth that her story sprang from nowhere.
Remember my story "Bessie B. Stringfield: The Color Blue” from Hear Me Roar? It was posted nearly intact on the website of the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame from 2002 to 2017. It was read by countless thousands over the years who learned of Bessie for the first time from that story. My efforts to keep Bessie’s memory alive in my writings were almost too successful. It was the exponential spread of that story that led to the video in the first place. The story was so popular that I had to abridge it drastically due to plagiarism by others. Therefore, folks who missed the longer, more colorful version on the museum website are out of luck.
What exactly is a public figure and what is it not? The late Bessie Stringfield is not the equivalent of an Aretha, who lived her life in public and in the press and needs no surname. Nor is Bessie the equivalent of someone like Rosa Parks, whose achievements made her a household name among the masses in her own lifetime. Rather, Bessie was under the radar during her own lifetime, and as noted earlier, she was not in a position to start a movement.
Today’s 20 million video viewers have never even heard Bessie speak! The only recordings of her are my private audio tapes. Bessie’s life had never been documented until she and I met, and today, most of what the public knows about her is confined to what they know from a single, short-form story written by me. Despite dozens of Google hits you may find on Bessie, those pieces are merely repetitive aggregates that began when someone lifted from my work, and from there, things spread exponentially and anonymously in cyberspace. These recycled pieces can only borrow from each other and go in circles. Since I have never released the rest of Bessie's story anywhere, the pieces stop at dead ends. That is because Bessie Stringfield is analogous to a real-life character in a novel: Bessie would not exist in the hearts and minds of the masses today if not for the copyrighted works of one author who interpreted and wrote Bessie's life and times for publication.
And yet, some people still find it hard to wrap their heads around this long-established, well-documented, proven reality. That is because the internet and social media can have a pervasive and deceptive influence, which spreads misinformation like wildfire, and which no one takes the time to examine. This could only happen in a perfect storm where pop culture is surveilled by artificial computer bots and algorithms, and where the nation's hunger for inspirational role models has been fed into the rapid pace of the web and social media. internet content-mills and click-for-profit business fuel the storm. For every click on the video, someone must have been making money; it certainly wasn't me.
The truth is that Bessie Stringfield does not even fit Wikipedia's own definition of a public figure, nor does she fit the dictionary and legal definitions. The volunteer editors of Wikipedia have not traced nor cited the actual source for the bulk of their encyclopedia entry on Bessie. My works predate, and they informed, the much later, far-removed references that lifted from my works. Atlas Obscura and others have been remiss as well.
Why does all this matter and what are the practical consequences of the omissions and the muddle? The false labeling of Bessie Stringfield as a “public figure” and a “rebel icon” has paved the way for various forms of exploitation of the voiceless Bessie. Some of this is done inadvertently by avid fans who are thrilled to find a genuine inspirational figure in their quest for heroines, heroes and role models in these difficult times. The ardor of these super-fans for Bessie is well-intended and understandable, and it is a testament to the enduring power of Bessie's story to ignite such passion in this generation.
However, the enthusiasm of Bessie's sincere fan-base has paved the way for other parties who have exploited Bessie’s memory and my proprietary material on Bessie. Such infringements have prompted me to remove text and photos from this site. So, I remind everyone that my material on Bessie Stringfield is not posted here as a resource for other parties to use to further their own ends; my material on Bessie here, and that which you may have seen lifted elsewhere, is not in the public domain. This means that derivative, adaptive and imitative works by others on Bessie in any media, in any format, non-fiction or fiction, are prohibited.
In the midst of my efforts to keep Bessie’s legacy alive in my writings, I have also had to preserve the integrity of her memory and of my stories, both of which are inextricably linked. It is jarring, for instance, to see speculative banter about Bessie on social media, in which Bessie (the "rebel icon") is viewed through the lens of people who never knew her, yet who project imagined scenarios onto my late friend. And it is disconcerting to see quotes and anecdotes from my tapes, which I wove into my narratives, inserted anonymously as if Bessie had been speaking aloud to no one, or worse, to unnamed "reporter(s).”
All that said, it is both intriguing and gratifying to me, as the author-originator of the stories, to see how Bessie has deservedly become the object of such intense interest around the world, even to the point of fascination in some quarters. It's what every dedicated author wants: to see tangible evidence that her stories on a worthy subject have made an impact on large numbers of people. One prominent African American female biker told me she is "obsessed with Bessie Stringfield." This sentiment is shared by her circle of colleagues and friends. On social media they have declared, "We stand on Bessie's shoulders."
Many readers and viewers—regardless of race and gender—from many walks of life, from schoolchildren to seniors, have expressed their admiration for Bessie Stringfield. Emails have come into my inbox from across the United States, Canada, England, France, Spain, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. Readers have also asked me to finish the full, still-untold story of Bessie's life that I began in my short-form narratives a quarter-century ago. In response to them, to do just that, I am returning to my privy audio tapes, my other proprietary materials as well as other hidden corners.
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The 25th anniversary edition of Hear Me Roar comes first. I have rechristened it as African American Queen of the Road: Reflections on Bessie Stringfield and the Women Bikers of Hear Me Roar.
In the anniversary edition, I am taking an expanded look back on Bessie and other bold American women in the original edition of Roar. I am including my own memoirs of my experiences among these bikers, as well as my alone time on the road. The older women were contemporaries of Bessie. Many others were contemporaries of mine. All of these women ventured out across the roads of the Americas. Some set records and achieved firsts in different types of motor sports throughout the 20th century.
As for the singular Bessie Stringfield, clearly her time is now. There are many outstanding, strong women in Hear Me Roar, including some who persevered through physical disability to keep riding, and who became role models for me. Bessie was larger than life in my eyes, even as an understated, frail elder. She was perhaps the most unexpected role model who came into my life, inspiring me to be resilient and push through my own obstacles, which are so different from what she contended with. Even today, when faced with certain challenges, I still ask myself, What would Bessie have told me to do?
Bessie is still inspiring me to assert my voice, both as an original storyteller and as a mature woman of a certain age. I just wish she was here to see that her legacy lives on in me and in countless other women in the 21st century. I was blessed to be an actual part of Bessie's later life and to share our friendship in her twilight years. I am grateful to have been there for Bessie as a witness and documentarian. Socially and culturally significant figures sometimes take their place in history only after enough time has passed to enable appreciation and recognition. That is the case with Bessie Stringfield.
My early stories about Bessie's hidden life and achievements were ahead of the curve when I wrote them and presented her to the wider world beyond Miami's radius in the 1990s. Bessie has an outstanding legacy for her courage, determination and grace in the face of prejudice based on race and gender. I was the writer and respectful friend who noticed—and who worked diligently with the elderly woman to capture her memories before it was too late. I was the sole recordist and an avid witness to a slice of living history in my surrogate Aunt Bessie Stringfield. Bessie has a legacy for her outstanding courage and her achievements against society's odds. I did not let her slip away. That is my legacy. — Ann Ferrar