LESSONS IN BLACK HISTORY – Marshall "Major" Taylor

Marshall “Major” Taylor—The son of a Civil War veteran, and one of eight children, Marshall Taylor and his family moved from Kentucky to Indiana, where his father went to work for a wealthy white family. Taylor became friends with Dan Southard, the son of his father’s employer. The Southards afforded Marshall a good life and helped him with his education. When he was 12 they gave him his first bicycle, and he soon became an adept trick rider. Taylor was hired to perform tricks on a bike while dressed as a soldier, earning him the nickname “Major.” By the time he was 13, Major Taylor had won his first bike race. Despite being banned from some race tracks and threatened at others, Taylor excelled in competitive bike racing, and turned professional in 1896 when he was 18 years old, leading to a career that would last seventeen years. Among Taylor’s biggest supporters was President Teddy Roosevelt. Taylor set several world records during his career, and would become the first African-American athlete to achieve the status of world champion (although African-Canadian boxer George Dixon was the first black athlete to ever be a world champion). Taylor earned a considerable salary as a professional racer, but he lost his money in bad investments and during the Stock Market crash. He died penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave.

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