The Worcester Whirlwind

Statue of Marshall “Major” Taylor outside of the Worcester Public Library. Credit WPL

What does a statue, a street, a parking garage and soon a museum in Worcester all have in common? They are all named after Marshall “Major” Taylor, famed cyclist and world-champion who called Worcester his home.

Marshall Taylor was born on 26 November 1878 in Indianapolis, IN to Gilbert and Saphronia Taylor. When a child, Marshall was gifted with a bicycle by a wealthy white family. He started working in a bike shop as a young teen cleaning and performing bicycle stunts out in the storefront. It was around this time that people started calling him Major, perhaps because he often wore a military uniform while performing.

After a year or two, Major started working for a different cycle shop. He also taught cycling to high school and college students while working at Munger Cycle Manufacturing Company. The owner of the shop, Birdie Munger would become Major’s cycling coach. Major competed in several amateur cycling races while still living in Indianapolis.

In 1895, Major relocated to Worcester with Munger who opened two bicycle manufacturing shops in Worcester and Middletown, CT. Major worked for Munger, repairing bikes, while continuing to train and race. At age 18, in 1896, Major turned professional – participating in multiple races and challenges. At the 1899 World Championships in Montreal, Canada, Major became the first African-American to win a cycling championship and the second Black man to win any world championship. He continued to travel and race throughout the world until his retirement in 1910.

During his retirement, Major wrote his autobiography, The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World: The Story of a Colored Boy’s Indomitable Courage and Success Against Great Odds: An Autobiography in 1928. He died in Chicago on 21 June 1932.

There’s no mention in this post of the hardships experienced by Taylor in a sport and profession that was dominated by white, often racist, men. But we all know that he did endure racism and prejudice. Major Taylor exemplifies the persistence and endurance of Black people everywhere to not only survive but thrive.

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