Major Taylor: The Inspiring Story of a Black Cyclist and the Men Who Helped Him Achieve Worldwide Fame, by Conrad Kerber and Terry Kerber; Foreword by Greg LeMond (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2014)
The cycling life of Marshall W. “Major” Taylor is inspiring, as the authors of this biography claim in the subtitle to their thoroughly documented and graphically written biography. He was born November 28, 1878, on a farm near Indianapolis, at a time when racist antagonism toward African Americans was at a high point and lynchings were public spectacles. At home he experienced love, developed good work disciplines, and learned to play the piano.
His father, a Civil War veteran and horse trainer, often took his eight-year-old son with him to the home of a wealthy Indianapolis family where he worked as coachman. Marshall played with Daniel, the owner’s son, and his friends, and the owner bought Marshall a bicycle, which had become the rage everywhere, so he could ride with the other boys.
Marshall quickly outperformed his companions. He also taught himself how to do trick riding. Along with Daniel, he was privately tutored and learned the rudiments of reading and writing.
When he was thirteen, Marshall took his bike to a bicycle shop, one of several along Pennsylvania Street in Indianapolis, and was given a job that paid a little more than his paper route. A couple of years later, at another bike shop, he met Louis Munger, a thirty-year-old racer whose legs were giving out. Impressed by the scrawny teenager’s abilities on a bicycle, Munger became his trainer and friend, helped Marshall enter amateur races, and prepared him for the professional circuit.
About the same time, he met Arthur Zimmerman, one of the most celebrated cyclists of the era, who also befriended the young, inexperienced black athlete. With help from Munger and Zimmie, Marshall became an aggressive cyclist, specializing in short distance sprint races in which he clearly surpassed virtually every other rider. Taylor’s distinctive and powerful riding style won races, endeared him to spectators, and drew ever larger crowds, much to the delight of promoters.
The cycling establishment and most cyclists were opposed to allowing black people to compete in their sport. Much of this book details the terrible odds that Marshall faced. Other racers conspired against him, so that he would be boxed in, forced off course, and sometimes injured. A low point was when an enraged cyclist jumped on Taylor who was still lying on the track after an accident and came close to choking him to death. Despite the criminal character of the event, the assailant’s attack received only a modest penalty. Read more. . . . The World’s Most Popular Athlete