On this day, in 1898, Marshall Taylor was born in rural Indiana to a black couple who moved north from Kentucky around the time of the Civil War.
“It is my thought that clean living and a strict observance of the golden rule of true sportsmanship are foundation stones without which a championship structure cannot be built.” — Marshall Taylor in The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World
In his lifetime, the grandson of slaves won the world one-mile track cycling championship in 1899 — after setting numerous world records and over-coming strong racial discrimination.
At an early age, his father’s employers – a wealthy Indianapolis family – gave Taylor a bicycle, and he began working as an entertainer at the age of thirteen. Taylor was hired to perform cycling tricks stunts outside a bicycle shop while wearing a soldier’s uniform — hence the nickname “Major.”
In late 1896, Taylor entered his first professional race in Madison Square Garden, where he lapped the entire field during the half-mile race. Although he was greatly celebrated abroad, particularly in France, Taylor’s career was still held back by racism, particularly in the Southern states where he was not permitted to compete against Caucasians. The League of American Wheelmen for a time excluded blacks from membership. During his career he had ice water thrown at him during races and nails scattered in front of his wheels, and was often boxed in by other riders, preventing the sprints to the front of the pack at which he was so successful. In his autobiography, he reports actually being tackled on the race track by another rider, who choked him into unconsciousness but received only a $50 fine as punishment. – wikipedia.org
A hundred years ago, when bicycle races drew crowds that filled Madison Square Garden, the biggest draw of all was Major Taylor. The New York race promoters who signed 19-year-old Marshall W. “Major” Taylor to their team in 1898 knew that fans would flock to see “the Worcester Whirlwind” compete. They also knew that controversy surrounding “the Colored Cyclone,” whose star was rising in muscular defiance of the Jim Crow segregation permeating the sport, was sure to generate headlines. – from Champion cyclist beat Jim Crow
Taylor retired at age 32 in 1910, saying he was tired of the racism.
“Life is too short for any man to hold bitterness in his heart.” – Marshall Taylor
On May 21, 2008, the Major Taylor memorial was unveiled at the Worcester Public Library, MA. Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond and three-time Olympic medalist Edwin Moses were featured speakers at the event.
Photo courtesy of Major Taylor Association