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Who was Major Taylor?

photoMarshall Walter (Major) Taylor (1878–1932) was an American cyclist who won the world one-mile track cycling championship in 1899 — after setting numerous world records and over-coming strong racial discrimination. Taylor was only the second African-American athlete to achieve the level of world championship — after boxer George Dixon.

Taylor's father was employed in the household of a wealthy Indianapolis family as a coachman, where Taylor was also raised and educated. At an early age, the 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."

As an African-American, Taylor was banned from bicycle racing in Indiana once he started winning and made a reputation as "The Black Cyclone." In 1896, he moved from Indianapolis to Middletown, Connecticut, then a center of the United States bicycle industry with half a dozen factories and thirty bicycle shops, to work as a bicycle mechanic in the Worcester Cycle Manufacturing Company factory.

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Honoring the Memory of Major Taylor

Today, efforts to honor the accomplishments of Major Taylor have taken many forms. A monument to his memory stands in Worcester. Indianapolis named the city's bicycle track after Taylor. Organized rides are named in his honor. A nationwide network of Major Taylor Cycling Clubs has emerged in places like Dayton and Columbus, OH, New York / New Jersey, New York, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, San Diego, and elsewhere. Other cycling clubs, such as the Detroit Metro Cycling Club, are also involved in honoring the memory of Major Taylor.

In spring 2008, the Major Taylor Cycling Club and Metro Detroit Cycling Club jointly sponsored a training camp in East Tennessee. Bike Domestique, Cycology Bicycles, and other local businesses help to support this annual training camp. Another camp is being planned for spring 2009. Click here for more information on the 2008 camp and upcoming events for 2009.

In late 1896, Taylor entered his first professional race in Madison Square Garden, where he lapped the entire field during the half-mile race. He eventually settled in Worcester, Massachusetts (where the newspapers called him "The Worcester Whirlwind"), marrying there and having a daughter, although his career required him to spend a large amount of time traveling, in America, Australia, and Europe.

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.

Taylor retired at age 32 in 1910, saying he was tired of the racism. His advice to African-American youths wishing to emulate him was that while bicycle racing was the appropriate route to success for him, individuals must find their own best talent. By the time of his death he had lost the wealth acquired during his racing career to bad investments, persistent illness, and the stock market crash. He died at age 53 on June 21, 1932 — a pauper in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood, in the charity ward of Cook County Hospital — to be buried in an unmarked grave.

In 1948 a group of former pro bike racers, with money donated by Schwinn Bicycle Co. (then) owner Frank W. Schwinn, organized the exhumation and relocation of Taylor's remains to a more prominent part of Mount Glenwood Cemetery in Glenwood, Illinois, near Chicago.

Biography adapted from Wikipedia.

 

 Eddie Sloan • Maryville, TN • 865-977-9823 (h) • 865-681-4183 (w) • ESloan9823@aol.com