Who was Major Taylor?

Marshall Walter (“Major”) Taylor

November 26, 1878 – June 21, 1932

Major Taylor was an American professional cyclist. 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.

 

After being gifted a bike by his family at a young age, Taylor took to it immediately, teaching himself bike tricks that he showed off to his friends. To attract more customers, a local bike shop owner hired him to perform cycling stunts while wearing a soldier’s uniform, which resulted in the nickname “Major.”

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, he had relocated to Worcester, Massachusetts, and started racing professionally. By 1898, he had captured seven world records.

Taylor won the world one-mile track cycling championship in 1899. He was the second black world champion in any sport, after boxer George Dixon.

 

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. Despite the obstacles, he had become one of the wealthiest athletes – Black or White – of his time.

Exhausted by his grueling racing schedule and the racism that followed him, Taylor retired from cycling at age 32. In his retirement he wrote his autobiography, “The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World.”


 

"Life is too short for a man to hold bitterness in his heart."

Major Taylor

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