Born in Indiana, Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor (1878-1932) was another pioneer who spearheaded change and overcame hurdles in professional cycling. Not only did Taylor surpass cycling records as a teenager, but he was also the first African American athlete to reach the status of a World Champion and second Black man to win a world championship. Despite his athletic success, he was also an advocate for equity in sports. At the age of 12, Taylor received his first bike. He worked at a bike shop as a mechanic, and his boss at the time, Louis Munger, a former racer, was convinced he would be a champion. Munger sponsored him in races and coached him as Taylor started racing in multiple distances on road and track events. Taylor also performed bike tricks in the shop wearing a military uniform- hence the nickname “Major”.
At the age of 18, Taylor became a professional athlete, and at 20, he became a world champion. From 1896 to 1910, Taylor was considered the LeBron James and Jackie Robinson of his era, but it wasn’t easy. He experienced racism and discrimination every step of the way. White cyclists would crash into him, intentionally sabotaging his win, spectators would throw water at him or place nails on the track. Racetrack owners would also refuse his right to compete. At the time, the League of American Wheelmen excluded People of Colour membership to their organization, yet they profited from Taylor’s participation in their competitions. But nothing would stop him. Taylor set seven world records and earned the title of “world champion sprinter”.
Taylor passed in 1932, but what made his achievements that much more extraordinary was that he was a man of colour who persevered in his career despite the racism, violent threats, and physical abuse he experienced by others. He persisted with dignity and became an icon for the future. To honour his legacy, the City of Chicago named one of Chicago’s urban bike trails the Major Taylor Trail.