Major Taylor

Marshall Walter "Major" Taylor, born November 26, 1878, was an American professional cyclist. He was world cycling champion in 1899, American sprint champion in 1900, and set numerous track cycling records. Nicknamed “Major” in his youth in Indianapolis and later known as “the Worcester Whirlwind” after his adopted hometown in Massachusetts, he was the second African-American world champion in any sport (after Canadian-born bantamweight boxer George Dixon of Boston won his title in 1891). In the Jim Crow era of strict racial segregation, Taylor had to fight prejudice just to get on the starting line. He faced closed doors and open hostility with remarkable dignity. Taylor entered his first bike race when he was in his early teens, a 10-mile event that he won easily. By the age of 18, Taylor had relocated to Worcester, Massachusetts, and started racing professionally. In his first competition, an exhausting six-day ride at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Taylor finished eighth.

From there, he pedaled into history. By 1898, Taylor had captured seven world records. A year later, he was crowned national and international champion, making him just the second black world champion athlete, after bantamweight boxer George Dixon. He collected medals and prize money in races around the world, including Australia, Europe and all over North America.

As his successes mounted, however, Taylor had to fend off racial insults and attacks from fellow cyclists and cycling fans. Though black athletes were more accepted and had less overt racism to contend with in Europe, Taylor was barred from racing in the American South. Many competitors hassled and bumped him on the track, and crowds often threw things at him while he was riding. During one event in Boston, a cyclist named W.E. Becker pushed Taylor off his bike and choked him until police intervened, leaving Taylor unconscious for 15 minutes. Exhausted by his grueling racing schedule and the racism that followed him, Taylor retired from cycling at age 32. Despite the obstacles, he had become one of the wealthiest athletes – black or white – of his time. Taylor died at age 53 in the charity ward of Cook County Hospital, Chicago, of high blood pressure and is buried in an unmarked grave.

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