Imagine riding a motorcycle across country. Then imagine riding the rough, often unpaved roads of the 1930s (before there was a highway system) sitting on a motorcycle with little suspension save the seat springs. Now imagine that, like Bessie Stringfield, you’re a woman riding alone, you’re black at the height of the Jim Crow laws and you stand just five feet tall and weigh 100 pounds.
There are enough obstacles in that scenario to discourage most women. But not Bessie. She had a passion, and she was willing to pursue it at all costs.
Bessie Stringfield had the Can-Do spirit. She had a passion to ride, and let nothing stop her And it’s why she matters. The dictionary describes Can-Do as “characterized by eager willingness to accept and meet challenges.” Let Bessie be a lesson…a reminder to you. If you have a passion, don’t let idle talk discourage you. Don’t let family and friends convince you otherwise. And don’t ask permission. PURSUE YOUR PASSION, and live your life to the fullest. Bessie did.
A Brief History
Bessie’s early years are a little fuzzy, in part because she changed her story often. She was born in 1911 or 1912, possibly in Kingston, Jamaica, but maybe in Edenton, North Carolina. We do know, however, that she moved with her parents to Boston only to be orphaned at five. Bessie’s good fortune was to be adopted and raised by an Irish woman who clearly understood and encouraged her.
Motorcycles became popular in post-World War I America. As young men raced about on their motorcycles, little Bessie watched and dreamed of having a bike of her own. “When can I have my own motorcycle?” she asked.
The answer came on her 16th birthday when her mother gave her the keys to a new 1928 Indian Scout.
Although Bessie had never been on a motorcycle, let along operate one, through perseverance she taught herself to ride. And as her dream turned to reality it ignited her passion.
Three years later, Bessie was ready for adventure. At 19 she began crisscrossing the country on her motorcycle. Where she went she left to fate and a penny she’d flip on a map. It wasn’t easy. She paid for trips by performing motorcycle stunts at shows and carnivals. Although she also raced motorcycles, she was denied the prize money because she was a woman.
Sometimes she was harassed by police just for riding through town, being told that she wasn’t allowed to ride a motorcycle because she was black. And because it was the 1930s, she was often denied accommodations at motor lodges and inns. Unless she was lucky enough to be taken in by a black family, she often had to sleep on her bike in parking lots outside of gas stations with her leather jacket across the handlebars for a pillow.
But even these hardships could not stop her. That’s what true passion is all about. Meeting and overcoming obstacles makes the dream all the sweeter.
Bessie made a name for herself as the first African-American woman to ride a motorcycle coast to coast. And during WWII, she served as a civilian courier for the Army, carrying official documents and secret dispatches between bases. Her work took her across country eight more times. She was literally a Rosie the Riveter on Wheels. The CD shield on the fender of her Harley-Davidson identified her as a courier and gave her entre to military bases.
Motorcycle Queen of Miami
After the war, Bessie Stringfield moved to Miami, Florida, where she continued to ride. She founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club and heralded as the Motorcycle Queen of Miami. Bessie lived until 1993, continuing to ride until the end. Her passion for motorcycles was such that she owned 27 Harley-Davidson bikes throughout her lifetime.
But the legacy of Bessie Stringfield lives on. This diminutive black woman with a passion to ride broke barriers for other black women. In 2000, the American Motorcycle Association recognized her achievements and created in her honor the Bessie Stringfield Memorial Award to recognize outstanding achievements of other women, especially female motorcyclists.
In honor of Bessie’s adopted state of Florida, here’s a recipe for stir fry stone crab legs in curry ginger sauce.
Florida Stone Crab Legs with Curry and Ginger Sauce
- 2 tbsp rice bran oil You can use olive oil, but I prefer rice bran for the high heat tolerance
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 scallions, finely chopped
- 1/2 bell pepper, finely chopped
- 3 slices ginger, fresh and peeled
- 2 tsp curry powder
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp straight sherry
- ⅔ cup chicken broth
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp water
- 16 stone crab legs Shells should be cracked but not picked
- Heat wok over high heat.
- Add rice bran oil and when hot, add garlic, scallions, bell pepper and ginger. Stir fry for about half a minute.
- Add crab legs and continue stir frying for a full minute.
- In a bowl, combine curry power, sale, sugar and sherry.
- In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and water into a paste.
- Pour the curry mixture over the crab meat and continue stir frying for another half minute.
- Add chicken broth and cook for roughly 5 minutes.
- Add the cornstarch paste to the stir fry as a thickener.
- Serve immediately.
It’s a universal message to all of us to find our passion. And once found, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential, go for it.
And I stress this. Don’t simply follow your passion. Be more proactive. Pursue your passion. Your life (and often the lives of others) will be fuller for your commitment.
We created the Bessie Stringfield Inspirational Touchstone Keychain as a reminder to Pursue Your Passion.