Major Taylor (1878-1932) was the first Black International world sports champion. He was an amazing highly skilled bicycle rider who won the world championship during the early 20th century in spite of facing extreme racial bigotry and violence.
Born on November 26, 1878, in Indianapolis, Indiana, Taylor became a professional cyclist at age 22 and won his first sprint race against white riders within two years. In 1906 he won three out of four races at Madison Square Garden in New York City and set a record for speed that stood for 25 years. When he retired from cycling after World War I (1914-1918), he coached young athletes at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama until his death of pneumonia on November 30, 1932.
Taylor describes his entry into the sport as, "an accident, pure and simple." Curiosity led him to observe a bicycle race at the tender age of 13. He'd recently left his job delivering newspapers to work in an Indianapolis bicycle shop doing light cleaning and acrobatic stunts on his bike to lure in potential customers. Taylor had taught himself the impressive tricks that drew large crowds.
Taylor literally started off as a champion in his very first bicycle race when the shop's owner, Mr. Hay, insisted that he take his position on the starting line. Though scared and crying, Mr. Hay consoled him by saying he didn't have to finish and to return to the start whenever he chose. Taylor mustered up his nerve and went flying after the starting pistol fired. Close to the finish line, Mr. Hay coaxed him on again by dangling the winning golden medal in his view. Taylor credits this site of the medal and the encouragement received from Hay at that moment boosted his confidence and spurred him onto the finish line. He details that when he saw the medal at that particular point in the race, it reminded him of the times he'd strutted around with it pinned to his lapel in the shop and pretended it was his own.
What better way to learn about someone than from their own words. Taylor weaves together each race with meticulous detail bringing the reader to the edge of the track to experience everything from the weather on the day of the race, the audience temperament, physical condition, and racist tactics used against him along the way. In many instances it left me exhausted to make it through to the finish line with the rest of the racers yards and ofttimes track lengths behind him.
Taylor was called by reporters of the time, the:
Afriware Books, Co is proud to re-print Taylor's harrowing and courageous tale of this brilliant and skillful champion. Taylor's autobiography drew particular interest when reading that the main reason he wrote it though close to penniless prior to his death, he wanted his story to be an example to other Black people of what was possible. He said,
"I am writing my memoirs, however, in the spirit calculated to solicit simple justice, equal rights, and a square deal for the posterity of my down-trodden but brave people, not only in athletic games and sports, but in every honorable game of human endeavor."
March 5 through October 23, 2022. Here is the website: https://www.indianamuseum.org/experiences/major-taylor-fastest-cyclist-in-the-world/. I visited the exhibit on 10/12/22 and enjoyed the lifesized photos, awards and letters that brought his story closer. One of the bikes he owned was even on display. There was a section that allowed visitors to try to outrace Taylor by simulating a ride with him while pedaling fiercely to keep up with his online body double. I do hope the exhibit travels around the country at some point.
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My name is Nzingha Nommo, I've been in business since 1993 as owner/Founder of Afriware Books, Co. Thought I could share a few things I learned from my journey. I also dabble in veganism, natural hair and other odds and ends. Learn more on our About Us page.