Marshall “Major” Taylor was the first black American to win a world title in boxing, he had an audacious dream of being the champion for all people. His legacy is still felt today by fighters across disciplines and generations, but there are multiple barriers that must be overcome before his story can fully become reality.
Marshall “Major” Taylor was the first black American to become a world champion in any sport. He fought for his rights and against racism, becoming one of the most important figures in sports history.
Taylor was also known as ‘The Black Cyclone,’ as shown here in 1906.
Thousands of people gathered to Madison Square Garden in New York on a very chilly December night.
The fragrance of chicken and potatoes cooking over open fires lingered in the late-night air, as the throng chattered and clapped their hands together to remain warm.
The participants emerged from a tiny canvas tent set up at the side of a wooden, banked oval track. They didn’t come to see basketball or boxing. On December 6, 1896, a cycling race took place.
The field consisted of 28 male athletes, 27 of whom were white, who competed on machines similar to what we see today.
Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor was an African-American athlete who broke new ground. He was in New York on that particular day to compete in a competition that they no longer hold: the six-day endurance event.
It meant riding a bike with no brakes and no way to coast if you got weary in the midst of winter for almost a week, only stopping to rest if you dared. Given the rigors of American football and ice hockey, it’s hardly surprise that the people adored it.
Taylor’s career was established as a result of the race.
He wrecked twice as an 18-year-old and insisted on just one hour of sleep for every seven hours he rode. Even though he came in seventh place, a celebrity was born. He became a world sprint champion three years later, and it would be nearly a century before another black cyclist won a global championship.
Despite this, Taylor’s life narrative, which is marked by success but marred by violence, is mostly forgotten.
Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor, a black bicycle pioneer, tells his tale.
Taylor, who was born in 1878 and reared in Indianapolis, spent part of his childhood with the rich parents of a friend, who bought him his first bicycle and tutored him. When they relocated to Chicago, Taylor returned home and, at the age of 12, discovered an odd source of income that would lead to a profession he could never have anticipated.
The proprietors of the Hay and Willits bike store paid him $6 a week to do stunts in order to attract clients. He did it while dressed in military garb, garnering him the moniker ‘Major.’
Taylor later went on to a more established bike store in downtown Indianapolis, where he met riders like Louis ‘Birdie’ Munger and Arthur Zimmerman, the double world sprint champion. It was his friendships with these track legends that allowed him to enter into an otherwise all-white sport. Munger, in particular, saw his talent and prepared him to succeed.
Taylor, approximately 1900; in 1899, he had won the world championship in sprinting.
And he triumphed. He set an amateur one-mile track record when he was 15 years old. He was disqualified and banned from the velodrome almost immediately.
Around this time, Taylor set numerous additional amateur records, frequently in the face of white competition. In segregated races, he continued to dominate, and records in national championships for black racers began to tumble.
Munger’s transfer to Worcester, Massachusetts, a racially more tolerant city that was also a cycling hotbed at the time, made his transition into competing among white competitors a bit easier.
He started to make an impression on the throng, much to the joy of some, but much to the dismay of others. Even soon-to-be US president Theodore Roosevelt was watching Taylor’s every step as he set seven world short distance records in 1898 and 1899.
His abilities, though, were too much for others. Taylor was pulled to the ground and choked senseless by a rival he beat into second place in a sprint race in Taunton, Massachusetts, less than a year after introducing himself on the racing scene in New York.
The New York Times said, “After the riders had done, WE Becker wheeled around behind Taylor and grabbed him by the shoulder.” The report went on to say: “[Taylor] was shoved to the ground, Becker choked him unconscious, and the cops had no choice but to intervene. It took him 15 minutes to regain consciousness, and the audience was highly hostile against Becker.”
The crowd’s outpouring of support that day must have fueled Taylor’s determination to quiet those who sought to bring him down. Under his tyres, ice cubes and nails would be tossed. His company would be turned down by hotels and eateries.
“Taylor’s climb is a narrative of drive and determination via his demonstration of human elegance,” says Dr. Marlon Moncrieffe, author of Black Champions in Cycling.
“He’d go to the track with vigour and strength, smashing long-standing track speed records established by great white cyclists. While this delighted the majority white audience, who recognized the elegance in Taylor’s attempts, it enraged the white racers. Taylor was informed that if he ever turned up to one of their meetings to humiliate them, his life would be jeopardized.”
Taylor was racing and setting records on the track and on the road across Europe and Australasia by the turn of the century. He won 22 races in 1899, including a memorable win against Tom Butler in the one-mile world sprint, making him the first black American world champion and the second black world champion in any sport, after Canadian boxer George Dixon’s championship in 1890.
It was difficult to overlook his genius. Taylor, however, refused to run on Sundays, when many of the finals were held, since he was a fervent Christian. He didn’t compete for another world championship until 1909, when he was nearing the conclusion of his career.
He missed numerous racing meets in Europe due to the same reason, but when he did get on the track, he was a force to be reckoned with. In 1902, he won 40 of 57 races, developing a following in France.
Taylor resigned in 1904 at the not-so-ripe age of 26, but was persuaded to make a return in 1907, which he did for three years before calling it quits. By the time of his last race in 1910, he had amassed a sizable fortune – around $2 million in today’s money.
Following his retirement, however, he struggled due to bad business ventures and the break-up of his wife. He was able to pay off his obligations thanks to the sale of real estate. He died of a heart attack at the age of 53 in Chicago in 1932, with practically all of his winnings gone.
The Great Depression, as well as his burial in a pauper’s cemetery, may have had a role. He was excavated and reburied in 1948, with a more suitable epitaph: “An honest, brave, God-fearing, clean-living gentlemanly athlete who came up the hard way without hate in his heart, a world champion bicycle racer who came up the hard way without hatred in his heart. He was a credit to his race since he always gave it his all. Although he is no longer among us, he is not forgotten.”
“I felt I had my day, and a magnificent day it was too,” Taylor wrote in his memoirs when he retired.
“I always tried my utmost and played the game fairly, despite the fact that I wasn’t always given a fair shake.”
Taylor has to be a sports legend for what he accomplished in the context of when and how he accomplished it.
So why is he “one of the greatest sports stars no one knows,” as the Los Angeles Times put it 16 years ago?
Taylor’s name is now associated with a cycling team committed to the development of non-white athletes. It has aided in the development of talent like as Justin Williams and his brother Corey, who have both won national races in the United States.
In addition, the production firm of American artist John Legend is now shooting ‘The Black Cyclone,’ a biopic whose title refers to another of Taylor’s nicknames. In his hometown of Indianapolis, a painting was just unveiled.
However, considering Taylor’s cultural effect outside of the velodrome in passing the torch to other black athletes during the twentieth century, many believe he is still underappreciated.
Taylor’s legacy, according to Moncrieffe, should be “even more meaningful for cycling and learning in the aftermath of the massive Black Lives Matter anti-racism rallies of 2020 throughout the globe.”
“Perhaps his narrative is a reminder that past racial prejudice still lives and breathes in the dominating and exclusive white world of cycling?” he says.
“I really hope this is not the case. I’d want Taylor’s legacy as the fastest man on two wheels to serve as a reminder that the greatest source of strength in sports is the combination of passion, drive, friendship, and human elegance.”
Marshall “Major” Taylor was the first black American to win a world championship. His story is one of perseverance and determination, as he fought for his rights and to be recognized as a champion. Reference: major taylor cycling club.
Frequently Asked Questions
What year did Major Taylor win the world championship?
A: Major Taylor won the world championship in 1903.
Why is Major Taylor an important part of African American history?
A: Major George Armand Taylor was a black American athlete who pioneered the modern day sport of track and field. He is regarded as one of Americas first great athletes to break racial barriers in sports, paving the way for future black athletes like Jesse Owens.
Who is Major Taylor and why is he important?
A: Major Taylor was a black man in the United Kingdom who became one of the worlds best cyclists. He is often considered to be one of Britain’s most important sporting figures because cycling at that time was not common in England so much, but he also pushed for racial equality in his lifetime.
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