As we pray for one Black superstar athlete, let’s recognize the very first. Marshall “Major” Taylor won the world cycling championship in 1899 to become only the second Black world champion in any sport. A year later, at age 22, Taylor won the US national sprint championship, setting many records on the velodrome. He won hundreds of cycling meets all around the world and would have won even more had he been treated fairly.
Despite Taylor’s extraordinary speed and athletic ability, he faced bigotry, hatred and racism. Lynching laws and Jim Crow laws combined to enforce segregation, erecting barriers that made it difficult and at times prohibited Taylor from competing in what was America’s most popular sport at the time. But the first celebrity Black athlete forced promoters’ hands by being a strong box office draw even if many of the spectators only showed up to hurl racial epithets at the cycling champ.
“In a word I was a pioneer, and therefore had to blaze my own trail,” Taylor wrote in his autobiography, “The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World.”
“There will always be that dreadful monster prejudice to do extra battle because of their color…Life is too short for any man to hold bitterness in his heart.”