Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday Photo - Major Taylor

Major Taylor shaking hands with an opponent before a race in Paris
The Major Taylor Velodrome in Indianapolis is named after Marshall Taylor. He was born in Indy in 1878. An African-American, his father fought in the Civil War and his grandfather had been a slave. Taylor's father worked for a wealthy Indianapolis family, who had a son about the same age as Marshall. They gave him his first bicycle when he was twelve, and he quickly learned to do some trick riding. This landed him a job with a local bike shop, who paid him to perform tricks in front of their store. He wore a military uniform, which is how he got the nickname Major.

Major Taylor won a 75 mile road race in central Indiana when he was 16. Due to racial barriers in Indiana, he soon moved to Massachusetts, where the population was more tolerant. In 1899 he became the first African-American world champion when he won the one mile race (Black Canadian boxer George Dixon had become world champion in 1890).

After his victory, Taylor was offered a large sum of money to race in Europe, but he turned it down because he would not race on Sunday. The promoters reworked the schedule so there was no Sunday racing, and Taylor agreed to race. In place of the racism he faced in America, he was hailed as a hero in Europe, especially in France. Major Taylor retired from bike racing in 1910. Life after racing was not kind to him. He made over $25,000 per year at the height of his career, but died penniless in 1932.

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