Marshall “Major” Taylor raced track and road cycling events professionally from 1896 until 1910. He was arguably one of the best cyclists in the world during his career. He was the first African American world champion cyclist and the second African American athlete to win a world championship in any sport (Canadian boxer George Dixon, 1892). Just 30 years after the Civil War, Major Taylor found success internationally, and fought not only on the racecourse, but through blatant racism whenever he competed in the U.S. During the 1896 season, Major Taylor unofficially broke a sprint world record on the track, but he was promptly banned from the stadium because of the color of his skin. He received death threats, and regularly faced dirty tricks from individuals or groups of riders leading up to and during races because of the ever-present presence of prejudice. However, his talent and character led him to great success and his efforts have inspired many to pursue their own cycling dreams.
The moment he earned his place on the international level was later in 1896 during the six-day race in Madison Square Garden. Cycling endurance events were extremely popular at the time. The race format was simple - be the one to cover the most laps over the course of six days. Thousands of spectators joined as the event waged on. The latter stages for those few remaining riders often resulted in exhausted riders falling asleep on their bikes and crashing onto the banked wooden track. To be entered in the race, Taylor had to compete in a half mile sprint. He won, beating the star of the time in cycling, Eddie Bald. Taylor ended up finishing eighth, covering 1,732 miles. By the second day, Taylor had covered almost 400 miles, putting him among the top contenders, in his first professional event. He continued to cover anywhere from 200-300 miles a day for the remaining four days of the race. Bikes, nutrition, and hydration were all drastically different realities than anything we can compare to today. Even after a pretty gnarly wreck late in the race, Taylor got back up and finished with all he had. Taylor was just 18, about ten years younger than the other riders.