The Legendary Major Taylor Lives On
By Darrell D. West
At the turn of the 20th Century, bicycle races were held with mostly white racers. But in 1896, a young African American named Marshall "Major" Taylor emerged on the track-racing circuit. He would become one of his era’s biggest stars, breaking more than 8 world track re-cords and pushing against the era’s violent and repressive Jim Crow laws. Born in 1878, Major Taylor spent much of his adolescence living with a wealthy, White family in Indianapolis. After receiving a bike from his adopted family, at the age of 12, Major Taylor soon earned a living performing stunts outside a bike shop, and quickly moved into competition racing as a young teen.
When "The Black Cy-clone" first hit the track in Indianapolis at age 15, he got himself banned. Not because of bad behavior – Taylor was well-known for his ethics and easy-going demeanor – but because he had the audacity to actually win. He had broken the 1 mile amateur track record. Major Taylor was utterly alone in a tough sport where you needed coaches, team-mates and opponents who respect your right to be on the track or road. Angry riders would try anything to stop him from winning. Despite rampant racism in competition Taylor met these challenges with remarkable dignity. What sets Major Taylor apart from the other racers and ath-letes of his day and after is not only his tremendous physical strength and endurance, but his strength of character. Some promoters pushed the "White vs. Black" aspect of the competition, but Major Taylor didn’t overtly turn his success into a political speech about race or want to be a spectacle reminiscent of a side show, he let his legs do the talking.
As the cycling trend returns and a increase in awareness of the benefits of cycling, you are bound to see more people churning the streets. The world was once rocked by the presence of one outstanding cyclist in Marshall "Major" Taylor. We are long overdue for another domi-nating cyclist. Could our next great cyclist come through you?