As part of Black History month, my son’s 4th grade class was asked to write a couple of paragraphs on a famous black athlete they admire. Most of the kids immediately took Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, or some other contemporary athlete. My son asked if he could do a little research and get back to his teacher. She agreed.
Completely on his own, my son conducted his own research and wrote the following essay. It is proudly reprinted with his permission. If you like the story, please link to it. I did not know Major Taylor ever existed and it is about time he got a little publicity. Also, Team Major Taylor could use a little boost as well.
Athletes are Made of Heart
Born Marshall Walter Taylor on November 26, 1895 in Indianapolis Indiana, he was one of eight children. His father was a coachman, employed by a wealthy white family. The family liked Taylor and got him his own bike. Taylor learned to ride his bike very well and earned money doing tricks on his bike. He got his nickname Major Taylor by wearing a military uniform while performing tricks outside a bike shop in Indianapolis. The shop owner encouraged Taylor to start racing. At 13, he won his first race.
His first professional race was a six day race at Madison Square Garden. He finished eighth. The next year, in Montreal, Taylor, who was 19, became the second African-American athlete to win a world championship in any sport by winning the one-mile sprint title. He dominated in the U.S. and then went to Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, defeating the best cyclists Europe had to offer. Taylor was also the 1-mile record holder, and three time U.S. sprint champion (1898,1899, 1900)
Taylor accomplished this while also battling predjudice. In the South, he was banned from racing. The League of American Wheelmen refused his membership. He was disqualified from many races after winning by race officials. He just kept racing.
Taylor retired from racing in 1910 and failed in his two businesses. He died at the age of 53 in the charity ward of Cook County Hospital in Chicago on June 21, 1932 and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1948, a group of former pro bike racers, with money donated by Schwinn Bicycle Company founder Frank Schwinn, had Major Taylor buried in a proper way.
Major Taylor continues to make an impact today. There are many bike clubs across the country named after Major Taylor. One of those is Team Major Taylor who provides educational scholarships for its all African-American team.