• Black History Month Essay Contest – Third Prize

    Marshall “Major” Taylor – by William Coen, PGHS Freshman

    Every Sunday morning, I ride a “Greg LeMond” road bicycle, named after a famous cyclist who won multiple Tour de France races in the 1980s. I now believe that instead I should ride a “Major Taylor” road bicycle, if only it existed.

    In the late 1800s and early 1900s, cycling was one of the most popular sports globally and Marshall “Major” Taylor was the fastest sprint cyclist in the world. His greatest of many accomplishments was winning both the one-mile and two-mile sprint races at the 1899 World Championships, held in Montreal. To this day, Taylor is the only African-American to become a world cycling champion. Despite facing unconscionable racism, Taylor persevered, demonstrating his cycling talent in a sport dominated by White men.

    On November 26, 1878, Marshall Taylor was born. Taylor was raised outside of Indianapolis, in rural Bucktown. At the age of 12, Taylor received his first bicycle, and he worked at multiple Indianapolis bicycle shops during his teenage years. He worked for the Munger Cycle Manufacturing Company, owned by former racing cyclist Louis Munger, a White man with whom Taylor bonded. Munger began coaching Taylor to become a racing cyclist. 

    In 1892, Taylor won his first amateur cycling race. Over the next few years, he won more races of varying lengths and in 1895 Taylor traveled to Chicago to participate in the national championships for Black racers. He won the ten-mile race, breaking the African-American ten-mile record with his time of 27:32. 

    In 1895, Taylor moved to Worcester, Massachusetts with Munger, who selected a new location for his bicycle shop. In 1896, Taylor ended his amateur career and became a professional racer. He soon began taking part in road and track professional races throughout the United States. White cyclists consistently demonstrated hatred toward Taylor. Many White cyclists threatened him, while others attempted to push him off his bicycle during races, occasionally succeeding at this cruel endeavour. Furthermore, Taylor was forced to wear number 13 in all of his races, as no White cyclists wanted to wear this unlucky number. In hotels, Taylor was forced to stay in room 13, again because the desires of White cyclists were always prioritized. Ever resilient, Taylor responded to this racism by adopting 13 as his lucky number.

     Finally, Marshall Taylor competed in the 1899 World Championships in Montreal. On August 10, 1899, Taylor won the one-mile sprint event. In the race, Taylor defeated many top cyclists, including Tom Butler, a United States cyclist who won the sprint event at the 1898 US national championships. Taylor then went on to win the two-mile sprint event. He earned these victories at the young age of 20 years old. Although Taylor continued to face racial prejudice, many people began to recognize his talent. His nickname became the “Worcester Whirlwind” and many fans appeared at competitions to support him.    

    Heading into the twentieth century, Taylor continued to thrive. He competed globally, performing well in races in Europe, New Zealand, and Australia. In 1910, Taylor retired, aged 32. He continued to reside in Worcester and lived in poverty for much of his life. Taylor moved to Chicago, Illinois near the end of his life and died there on June 21, 1932 due to a heart attack at age 53. 

    Although Taylor was celebrated during his cycling career, his fame has since declined. Taylor’s accomplishments were monumental, especially considering the racially-based hardships that he overcame. We all can learn from the principle that allowed Taylor to endure these trials, epitomized in his quote: “Life is too short for a man to hold bitterness in his heart.”

    William Coen, Sophomore, Pacific Grove High School, February, 2021

    Mr. William Coen, Third Place $25

    posted to Cedar Street Times on March 18, 2021

    Topics: Creative Writing

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