I stared at the photo. Then I looked down at the description and then back to the photo. Was I really seeing what I thought I was seeing? The photo was of a bicycling world champion around the turn of the twentieth century. The description made no mention of him being African-American, as though it would be politically insensitive to do so. But I couldn’t help thinking that this is huge: an African-American world champion of bicycling in the late 1800s!
Marshall “Major” Taylor was pictured on what could only be described as a modern 10-speed looking bike at a race in Europe. Born in 1878, this Indianapolis native was a world-renown champion. I was stunned. By the modern-looking bike in the photo. By a Hoosier being at the top of the bike-racing field over a century ago. By an African-American competing and winning bike races around the world—and setting world record after world record.
How is it that I have never heard of Marshall “Major” Taylor? He was the second African-American world champion in any sport, second only to the bantamweight boxer George Dixon (who won the world title and bouts in 1890-1891).
I can’t imagine the racism that Taylor encountered in Indiana, throughout the US, and around the world. In some places he wasn’t allowed to compete at all. He moved from Indiana to Massachusetts, which was a more tolerant environment.
Sadly, in 1932 he died a pauper in Chicago at the age of 53. However, in 1948 money from the owner of the Schwinn Bicycle Company funded his reburial in a cemetery near Chicago.
What an exciting and inspiring movie his racing career would make!