We’ll be cycling along and often our white jerseys, adorned with red, green and black, draw attention from other cyclists, walkers, and drivers.
“Who, “ they ask, is Major Taylor?
Born Marshall Taylor November 26, 1878, Taylor was the first African –American athlete to become a world champion for his 1899 one-mile track win. Taylor’s father worked as a coachman for a wealthy family in Indiana and the young Taylor lived with this family between the ages of 8-12, becoming educated and receiving his first bicycle. He taught himself tricks, which landed him a job at a local bike shop. He performed cycling stunts outside the store, wearing a cast-off soldier’s uniform, which earned Taylor the nickname, “Major.”
At age 13, Taylor won his first race, an amateur event in Indianapolis. Two years later, in 1893, Taylor beat the 1 mile (1.6 km) amateur track record. Subsequently barred from the Indiana track because of his race, he moved to Worcester, Massachusetts in 1896 and began racing professionally; showing his cycling prowess around the world.
Despite being celebrated abroad, Taylor faced racism in the US. Southern states refused to allow him to compete against whites. The League of American Wheelmen excluded blacks from membership and other racers would conspire against him, throwing ice water at him during races, scattering nails in front of his tires, or boxing him in on the track, preventing him from sprinting ahead.
In 1979, the first African-American cycling club named in honor of Major Taylor was organized in Columbus, Ohio. Now Major Taylor cycling clubs can be found in many major US cities; Newark, NJ among them.
And thanks to this club, I’ve become a cyclist. When teaching in Newark a few years ago, a colleague told me about another teacher in the building. “Go see Mr. McCarther, he rides a bike.”
Happy Birthday, Mayor Taylor.
For more about my evolution as a cyclist see: https://cyclingrandma.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/from-training-…ling-evolution
For links to Major Taylor and some great books: http://www.majortaylorassociation.org/who.shtml