BESSIE STRINGFIELD – Review
words and pictures by Joel Christian Gill
(2016 – Fulcrum Publishing)
(TALES OF THE TALENTED TENTH, Volume Two)
After reading about Bessie Stringfield, I fell in love with her, a little.
Born in Jamaica, she was abandoned in a Boston hotel by her father when she was very young, and she was placed in an orphanage. Before long, she was adopted by a single white woman of independent means and had a very happy childhood through the late 1910s and into the 1920s. When she expressed an interest in motorcycles, her mother bought her a Harley-Davidson.
She would ride motorcycles for the rest of her life, touring America numerous times and even braving the vicious horrors of the South in the 1930s onward, the Green Book in her saddle-bags. She literally outran Jim Crow on many occasions. “That was how I fought him,” she said. “On the open road.” Her accounts of these confrontations are one of the best parts of the book, but they are only a small part of her amazing story.
At one point, she performed in a circus as The Negro Motorcycle Queen, doing tricks like the spherical cage. During World War II, she was the only woman in the Army’s all-Black civilian motorcycle courier corps, passing a grueling training course no different than the men’s.
Later in life, she settled down in Miami and earned her nursing degree. She was dubbed “The Motorcycle Queen of Miami,” leading local parades and founding the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club there. She has been acknowledged by groups like the Motorcycle Heritage Museum in Ohio, and she was the first Black woman inducted into the American Motorcycle Association Hall of Fame and the Harley-Davidson Hall of Fame ; the AMA Hall of Fame named its Memorial Award after her.
The art in this book is great, with an amazing ability to capture the story’s (literally) dynamic subject as she goes from adventure to adventure. Gill’s work has a certain whimsy about it, purposefully cartoonish yet not without sophistication, making it appealing to readers young and old alike.
Taking all this together, I would recommend this title for all ages, and especially for those who like to read history or biography in graphic format.
Read this book, and you’ll fall in love with Bessie Stringfield a little, too.
Please also read my column JUST THE GOOD STUFF : MINI-REVIEWS for 02-16-2017, where I review Joel Christian Gill’s BASS REEVES ( 2014 : Fulcrum Publishing ), the first volume in Gill’s series TALES OF THE TALENTED TENTH.