Tales of Talented Tenth: Bessie Stringfield

Joel Christian Gill 


Summary

Imagine a five-foot-two-inch-tall woman riding a Harley eight times across the continental United States. Now imagine she is black and is journeying across the country in the pre-Civil Rights era of the 1930s and '40s. That is the amazing true story of Bessie Stringfield, the woman known today as The Motorcycle Queen of Miami and the first black woman to be inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association Hall of Fame and the Harley Davidson Hall of Fame. Stringfield was a pioneer in motorcycling during her lifetime; she rode as a civilian courier for the US military and founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club in Miami, all while confronting and overcoming Jim Crow in every ride.


Reader Activities

The Narrative of Bessie Stringfield

Bessie Stringfield was a rebel with a noble cause: equality and freedom for both African Americans and women. She followed her dream despite Jim Crow, racism in the South, and social constraints on acceptable careers for women. 

TEDTalks are one of the most influential and widely viewed forms of media today.  For example, take a look at the TEDTalk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who is a Nigerian novelist and author. 

If Bessie Stringfield were alive today, she might be asked to give her own TEDTalk.  Write a TEDTalk speech for Bessie Stringfield. Think about what she would talk about and how she would try to encourage today's young women to achieve their dreams. What aspects of her life would she talk about to ignite conversation about racial and gender equality? 

 Map Your Own Adventure

Bessie Stringfield lived in the dark and dangerous times before smart phones and the Internet. She dropped a coin onto a map to choose her destinations and used the Negro Motorist Green-Book to find safe places to eat and sleep. 

Thankfully, we have the Internet and Google maps now. Open Google Maps to your state or the whole US and close your eyes. Wiggle the mouse and click five random spots on the map. How would you travel between them? What's the cheapest mode of transportation? What's the fastest? Create a travel guide that includes a restaurant, hotel, and museum in the vicinity of each place you chose with your mouse. 

The Jim Crow Laws and Bessie's Rebellion Against Them

Throughout the book, Bessie is chased by crows, which represent Jim Crow laws. But what are Jim Crow Laws? What the videos below to define Jim Crow Laws and provide examples.  

Use this example chart to write down the law, if Bessie experienced the law, and do you still still see examples of this law today. 

Bessie Website Chart JPEG.jpg

In this video, John Green explains the conditions and attitudes of post-abolition America that created segregation by law and Jim Crow. 

This video discusses examples of Jim Crow laws and segregation.

This video discusses the Lunch Counter Protests that occurred in Texas in the early 1960s. What parallels can you draw between the actions in this video and in Bessie Stringfield


Supplemental Videos and Materials 

Artist and educator Joel Christian Gill brings to life stories rarely found in mainstream history books. Employing evocative text and rich imagery, he creates graphic novels that feature historic African-Americans who are largely unknown.
America has a long and rich history of black comics and comic books. We meet Rider University professor Sheena Howard, expert in the field, comic book creator Jason LaVonn Richardson, and Ariell R. Johnson, owner of Amalgam Comics & Coffee Shop in Philadelphia.