Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

The Faces of the African American National Biography

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Major Taylor (1878–1932)

Courtesy of the Indiana State Museum.

The first black international superstar athlete, Major Taylor was a bicycling sensation. In 1898, despite threats, boycotts, and prejudice, Taylor won the title of world champion in sprints. He gained international recognition when he became national champion in 1900. From 1901 until his retirement in 1910, Taylor regularly traveled to Europe and Australia, where he beat the best bicyclists that both continents had to offer. In all, it is thought that he earned more than 75,000 dollars during his racing career. Unfortunately, his life went downhill from there and by 1930 he was living out of the YMCA in Chicago, peddling copies of his self-published autobiography The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World: The Story of a Colored Boy's Indomitable Courage and Success against Great Odds (1929). Taylor died in the charity ward at the Cook County Hospital and was buried in the pauper's section of the Mount Greenwood Cemetery. In 1948, though, a group of black athletes and former bicyclists, with financial support from Frank Schwinn, the owner of the Schwinn Bicycle Company, had Taylor reburied with an appropriate marker and plaque in a more respectable place in the cemetery.

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