As Americans celebrate Juneteenth, hundreds of cyclists traveled to Indianapolis to honor its hometown hero. Major Taylor was a superstar in the world of cycling and broke barriers and records nearly a half-century before Jackie Robinson. Riders hit the streets in Taylor’s name.
Marshall “Major” Taylor became the first Black American to win a sports world championship in 1899. He was born in Indianapolis shortly after the end of slavery and was forced by racism to compete overseas.
“He went against all odds during a time where he wasn’t supposed to do that as a Black man,” said Damia Thomas of Velo City Riders in Baltimore.
But Taylor’s legacy mostly died with him.
“All these world records and nobody knew of him,” said George Harper, the founding president of the Major Taylor Cycling Club in Columbus, Ohio.
In 1979, Harper and his biking friends happened across Taylor’s story and dedicated their club to him.
“His spirit was one of inclusiveness, a unifying element. ‘Let’s bring everyone together because we have a common goal,'” said Jed Romura, the founding vice president of the Columbus cycling club.
Now, there are almost 90 clubs worldwide in his name that promote cycling in communities of color.
Taylor’s hometown also now honors him. The Indiana State Museum has one of his only remaining bikes on display near signs of the hate he endured.
The collection includes racially motivated caricatures and articles Taylor saved during his time of competing. One article talked about him being choked to the point where he almost went unconscious.
This Juneteenth weekend, hundreds from across the country rode while wearing his name.
“My goal was just to get people together so we could talk. I never knew this is what would come out of it,” said Bill Gaston, the president of the Major Taylor International Cycling Alliance.