Once upon a time—OK, 132 years ago—a boy was born in rural Indiana. One day his dad’s employer gave him a bicycle. Another day he broke two world track records for 1-mile rides but was banned from the Indianapolis Capital City track because of the color of his skin. After many years pouring himself into the sport, striving to ride beyond the racism surrounding him, Marshall “Major” Taylor became the American sprint champion.
Rare Major Taylor newsstand poster sold by Copake Auction Inc., supplement to LA Vie Au Grand Air, September 18, 1901. Taylor is shown in his patriotic racing uniform with his Iver Johnson track racer.
“Life is too short for a man to hold bitterness in his heart,” Taylor said of his feelings toward racists who prevented him from racing and harassed him during competitions.
Belgian poster from Cliff1066’s Flickr. By Louis Galice, 1902.
I heard of Major Taylor only a few weeks ago and was stunned to find he is buried in my county. He died at age 53 in the charity ward of Cook County Hospital and was buried in a pauper’s grave. Years later a group of pro bike racers, with money donated by Frank Schwinn, had him reburied in Mount Glenwood Cemetery. The more I have trolled around looking up info on him, the more I am fascinated by his story, his character and his personal strength. Taylor was a true American hero, and I encourage you to learn more about him.