Major Taylor in Line for Congressional Gold Medal

Major Taylor in Line for Congressional Gold Medal

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On Thursday, December 7, US Representative Jonathan Luther Jackson of Illinois introduced legislation that would honor Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor with a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award in the United States.

The congressional medal has honored “actors, authors, entertainers, musicians, pioneers in aeronautics and space, explorers, lifesavers, notables in science and medicine, athletes, humanitarians, public servants and foreign recipients,” according to the U.S. House of Representatives website.

Read also: Major Taylor Cycling Club journal entries

The legislation to award Taylor a Congressional Gold Medal is co-sponsored by Jackson, a Democrat from Illinois and Jim Baird, a Republican from Indiana. Jackson is the son of noted civil rights activist and minister Jesse Jackson. Martin Luther King, Jr was his godfather.

The bipartisan act has been co-sponsored by 27 congresspeople. It needs approval from two-thirds of the House and 67 senators to be enacted.

If passed, Taylor would be the second cyclist to be awarded a Congressional Gold Medal. In 2020, former President Trump awarded Greg LeMond with the medal.

“It is without question that Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor was a man before his time, a stellar athlete, a leader in the field of cycling, and a trailblazer,” Rep. Jackson said. “I believe it is fitting that Congress award the ‘world’s fastest man’ one of our nation’s most prestigious honors.”

Taylor, who died 92 years ago at the age of 53, is considered one of the greatest athletes of his time.

The son of a veteran who fought in the Civil War, Taylor was born in 1878 in Indianapolis. His father, Gilbert Taylor, worked for a wealthy white family who took the young Taylor under its wing, providing him with education and other opportunities. When the family moved away, they gave Taylor his first bicycle.

It’s believed that Taylor received the nickname “Major” as a child while performing bicycle tricks outside of the Hay & Willits, the first bike shop he worked at in Indianapolis. At another bike shop job, Taylor met Louis D. “Birdie” Munger, a former racer and the owner of the Munger Cycle Manufacturing Company. The two became friends; Munger also became his coach. They moved to Worcester, Massachusett, then the epicenter of the US bike industry, in 1895.

In 1896, at the age of eighteen, Taylor received a professional racing license from the League of American Wheelmen, despite the league’s 1894 “white only” rule for amateur membership.

Read also: Major Taylor’s autobiography: a review

Although he’d already won a dozen local races in Indianapolis and the northeast, Taylor’s breakthrough came at the “Six Day Race” at Madison Square Garden, in New York City in 1896. This race was considered a test of endurance, where cyclists would test both their mental and physical ability in front of a packed house at the Garden. Taylor finished eighth out of twenty-six, having ridden roughly 1,732 miles.

In 1899, Taylor won the world one-mile sprint world championship race in Montréal, becoming the first Black world champion cyclist and the second Black athlete to win a world title. He went on to set seven cycling records.

Against many odds, Taylor became an international sensation, drawing tens of thousands at races across the United States, Europe, and Australia. He would revolutionize the sport further by creating an innovative adjustable handlebar stem, which is still referred to as the “Major Taylor Stem.”

Despite earning the title of the “world’s fastest man,” Taylor faced persistent bigotry and hardship throughout his career. White promoters in both the North and South tried to exclude him from races, and when he did race, white riders subjected Taylor to insults physical harm during competitions. He retired from racing in 1910, citing physical and mental exhaustion caused by the racial prejudice he experienced on and off the track.

In 1928, Taylor detailed both his racing career and the persistent bigotry he faced in his 1928 autobiography, “The fastest bicycle rider in the world.”

Taylor’s legacy has been well-known in the cycling community over the past few decades, notably through his namesake Major Taylor Cycling Club, of which there are nearly 100 worldwide. The Congressional Gold Medal would be the most prestigious honor bestowed on Taylor thus far.

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