Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Marshall Walter ("Major") Taylor



Marshall Walter ("Major") Taylor was born in 1898 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Taylor was the first African American to achieve the level of cycling world champion and the second Black athlete to win a world championship in any sport. This was when cycling was one of the most popular spectator sports in the world.

Taylor encountered racial prejudice throughout his racing career from some of his competitors. In addition, some local track owners feared that other cyclists would refuse to compete if Taylor was present for a bicycle race and banned him from their tracks.

Major Taylor won his first significant cycling competition on June 30, 1895, when he was the only rider to finish a grueling 75-mile (121 km) road race near his hometown of Indianapolis. During the race Taylor received threats from his competitors, who did not know that he had entered the event until the start of the race.

Taylor turned professional in 1896, at the age of eighteen, and soon emerged as the "most formidable racer in America."

As a professional racer Taylor continued to experience racial prejudice as a Black cyclist in a White-dominated sport. In November and December 1897, when the circuit extended to the racially-segregated South, local race promoters refused to let Taylor compete because he was Black.

Taylor's legacy lies in his willingness to challenge racial prejudice as an African American athlete in the White-dominated sport of cycling. He was also hailed as a sports hero in France and Australia. Taylor, who became a role model for other athletes facing racial prejudice and discrimination, was "the first great Black celebrity athlete" and a pioneer in his efforts to challenge segregation in sports. He also paved the way for others facing similar circumstances.

Taylor explained in his autobiography that he had no other African Americans to offer him advice and "therefore had to blaze my own trail."

Excerpted from

A film about Major Taylor was just published by WTIU, Indiana Public Media. 

A full length film, titled Whirlwind, is being produced and is still seeking funding. Please see