Marshall “Major” Taylor (1878-1932)
World Champion Bicyclist (1899-1901)
© 2008 Arielle Michelle (a pseudonym)
Born November 26, 1878, in Indianapolis
Five sisters, two brothers,
Grandparents had been slaves in Kentucky
Before the Civil War.
Parents moved from Kentucky and were free,
Family settled at the edge of Indianapolis,
Bucktown a poor area for blacks,
They struggled on their small farm.
Thought easy to find work.
Father took odd jobs to make a living.
Found coachman job with wealthy family.
Family had a boy named Daniel,
Who had every toy in the world.
Daniel and Marshall became playmates.
Many white families shunned blacks
Many did not like the boys playing together.
The Southards encouraged it.
Marshall was smart and a perfect companion for Daniel.
Daniel’s family wanted to raise Marshall as their own.
Hired help normally stayed in kitchen,
Marshall could go anywhere in the house.
The Southards dressed the boys alike,
And bought Marshall shoes to cover his feet.
The boys went everywhere together.
They played baseball, tennis, ran fast and roller skated,
And played football.
The Southards bought the two boys bicycles.
Marshall learned many bicycle tricks and rode
Around town with all the other boys.
When Marshall returned to his home,
He returned to a life that he did not like.
He grew away from his family and values ,
Marshall was getting used to wealth and having fine things.
Blacks had to be careful about what they said to Whites,
The Southards encouraged Marshall to speak his mind.
At twelve, Marshall’s life changed again.
His new family moved to Chicago but Marhsall’s mother asked him to stay behind.
Marhsall gave up his friends, his activities, and his wealthy lifestyle.
He gave up everything except his bicycle.
He said “good-bye” to the boy who was closer than his own biological brother.
His heart was broken, and he never spoke of them again.
No longer could Marshall go to school.
His days were filled with getting water from the well,
Picking vegetables, and looking for a job.
Every Sunday his family attended church
And had stewed chicken and corn meal hoe cakes, and read the Bible.
Marshall’s bike was his comfort,
He often went down long dirt roads for peaceful rides.
He loved the freedom of riding his bike, and the wind against his face.
He found a newspaper job – since he had a bike;
He realized his bicycle was his ticket off the farm.
As the popularity of bicycles grew,
So did the interest of others in bike tricks.
Marshall got his second job – performing tricks outside of a bicycle store.
He invented new tricks, balanced on his handlebars,
Twisted and turned on his back wheels,
And became an expert on jumps, turns, and spins.
His boss dressed him in a dark blue military-like uniform.
Traffic halted as crowds gathered to watch him, the crowds called him “Major.”
At thirteen, Marshall won his first bicycle race against adult competitors.
As he grew and rode, and trained he become one of the fastest cyclists on the circuit.
He made history, at the age of sixteen, when he finished first in Matthews, Indiana,
A six-day race in Madison Square Garden, and more races in Philadelphia, Waverly, New Jersey, and Boston.
Marshall and his mentor moved to Worchester, Massachusetts.
He became known as the Worchester Whirlwind.
Marshall traveled overseas and became the bicycle “wonder” there.
He was making huge sums of money and was generous with his siblings.
He toured throughout Europe and raced two years in Australia.
Sometimes the tour ended badly; those who lost to him, plotted ruthless plans.
Judges called bad decisions, helping his opponents.
Marshall was forced to return to San Francisco
Discrimination, debts, and loss of income plagued his family
Daisy, his wife, and their child traveled with him – and encouraged him along the way
His brothers and sisters only asked for money.
His life on the road had taken its toll — on him and his family.
His wife and daughter left for New York City.
Major’s career slowly faded.
Separated from his family—no longer valuable to his “friends.”
Major retired to Chicago to live in Bronzeville at the YMCA.
He died, alone on June 21, 1932, in a charity ward.
He was buried in a pauper’s grave.
Sixteen years later, in 1948, that a group of bicyclists and Frank
Schwinn raised money to give him a permanent grave and installed a
headstone that read:
“World’s champion bicycle race — who came up the hard way— without
hatred in his heart—an honest, courageous and God-fearing, clean living
gentlemanly athlete, a credit to his race who always gave out his best—
gone but not forgotten.”