The history of sports in the United States is replete with bravado and achievement, but one of the unsung heroes is Major Taylor, the first black American sports world hero. Major was a celebrated track cyclist who broke records and blazed trails throughout his life in the early twentieth century. This week, the United States Congress is considering honoring Major Taylor with a bill that would recognize his legacy and achievements, securing his place in history as one of America’s greatest sports icons.
Major Taylor’s life story began in humble fashion. He was born in 1878, just four years after the end of the Civil War, in an area of what is now Indianapolis. His parents, former slaves, had little money and often scraped by with whatever work they could find. Despite the difficulties of his early life, Major always had ambition and a passion for cycling. Thanks to a white benefactor, he was able to purchase a used bike and enter cycling competitions before he even reached the legal age to ride in races.
It was not long until Major was turning heads. By 1896, at just 18 years old, he had risen to compete on the same stage as the greatest cyclists of the day. He became the first African American to hold major cycling titles such as the Sprint World Champion, the U.S. Champion, and the World Record Holder. Throughout his racing career, Major was often met with extreme prejudice, including death threats, unfair rules, and violent attacks. Despite all of these difficulties, Major never backed down and continued to rise to the top of American cycling.
At the end of Major’s racing career, he had set 26 world records, and was a national hero and beloved figure in Europe and the United States. After his retirement in 1910, Major continued to be an advocate for cycling with his organization, the Major Taylor Association. In spite of his successes, Major’s contributions have often been overlooked and he has not had an official day of celebration. This week, however, United States Congress is considering honoring Major Taylor with House Bill 2233, which would officially recognize his life’s work and contributions to American sport. This important recognition would secure Major Taylor’s legacy in history and ensure that future generations remember the remarkable life and achievements of the first black American sports world hero.