The American Motorcyclist Association has awarded the Bessie Stringfield Award to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
The AMA Bessie Stringfield Award, first awarded in 2000, memorializes the accomplishments of AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame member Bessie Stringfield, an African-American motorcycling pioneer of the mid-20th century. The award recognizes individuals who have introduced motorcycling to emerging markets. Until her recent retirement announcement, Rep. Giffords was the co-chair of the Congressional Motorcycle Caucus. As a rider for more than 20 years, and as a member of the U.S. House and the caucus, she worked with the AMA and the motorcycling community on a number of issues to protect and promote motorcycling. Arguably, Giffords is the most visible woman motorcyclist ever elected at the national level, and her embrace of motorcycling encouraged many other women to take up riding.
"This is a great honor from the AMA," said Gifford's husband, astronaut Mark E. Kelly, on her behalf. "Gabby and I have been motorcyclists for many years, and I can tell you that motorcycling, and motorcyclists, have been important in our lives. She has been able to inspire so many others to take up riding, particularly women."
Kelly added that Giffords is progressing in her recovery from the failed assassination attempt on her life in January 2011, and that the couple hope to ride together again one day in the future.
More about Ms. Stringfield:
Bessie Stringfield (1911–1993), nicknamed "The Motorcycle Queen of Miami", was an African American woman credited with breaking down barriers for both women and African American motorcyclists. She was the first African-American woman to ride across the United States solo and during World War II she served as one of the few motorcycle despatch riders for the United States military. The award bestowed by the American Motorcyclist Association for 'Superior Achievement by a Female Motorcyclist' is named in her honour. In 2002 Stringfield was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
Stringfield was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1911, but her parents migrated to Boston when she was still young. Her parents died when Stringfield was five and she was adopted and raised by an Irish woman.
At the age of sixteen Stringfield taught herself to ride her first motorcycle, a 1928 Indian Scout. At the age of nineteen she commenced travelling across the United States and eventually rode through the 48 lower states. During this time she earned money from performing motorcycle stunts in carnival shows. Due to her skin colour, Stringfield was often denied accommodation while travelling, so she would sleep on her motorcycle at filling stations.
During WWII Stringfield served as a civilian courier for the US Army, carrying documents between domestic army bases. During the four years she worked for the Army she crossed the United States eight times. She regularly encountered racism during this time, reportedly being deliberately knocked down by a white male in a pickup truck while travelling in the South.
From the AMA Hall Of Fame:
In the 1930s and 1940s, Bessie took eight long-distance, solo rides across the United States. Speaking to a reporter, she dismissed the notion that "nice girls didn’t go around riding motorcycles in those days." Further, she was apparently fearless at riding through the Deep South when racial prejudice was a tangible threat. Was Bessie consciously championing the rights of women and African-Americans? Bessie would most likely have said she was simply living her life in her own way.
Late in life, Bessie suffered from symptoms caused by an enlarged heart. "Years ago the doctor wanted to stop me from riding," she recalled. "I told him if I don’t ride, I won’t live long. And so I never did quit."
Fuckin' A, lady! That's the spirit!
Soooo...in the face of societal discrimination against Afro-Americans, women, and motorcyclists, even while they were doing their patriotic duty, here was a fine lady and role model who prevailed over it all.
There's a lot more at the links.