Walter Taylor was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on November 26, 1878.
He received his first bicycle from the wealthy white family that
employed his father.
He earned the nickname of "Major" because of the
soldier's uniform he wore while performing cycling stunts for a bike
shop in Indianapolis. While working in the bicycle factory of a white
cyclist, Taylor won his first amateur race at the age of 13.
long before he was competing in international races. He became the
American sprint champion at age 18 in 1898. He went on to repeat that
victory two more times.
1899, he reached the top of the cycling world by winning the world
title in the 1-mile sprint. With that, he became the first
African-American world champion in cycling and only the second
African-American world champion in any sport.
What made his accomplishments even
more impressive was the fact that he was a Black man who overcame open
racism and overt threats of violence by those who did not want to see
him succeed because track cycling at that time was dominated by the
He established several world records during his 16 years of
competition. In the 168 races in which he competed, he finished first
in 117 and finished second in 32.
1902, he married Daisy Morris. His only child, a girl named Sydney,
was born in Australia in 1904 (she passed away in 2005 at the age of
101 leaving one son, 5 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren.)
1910, he retired from racing at age 32. His cycling fortune was
drained quickly by failed business ventures and illness.
moved to Chicago in 1930 and tried selling his autobiography, "The
Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World." He died penniless on June 21,
1932 at the age of 53 in Chicago and was buried in an unmarked grave.
Years later in 1948, Frank Schwinn
donated money to have his remains moved to a more prominent area of
Mount Glenwood cemetery.
The bronze plaque on the new site of his
grave reads: "World's champion bicycle racer who came up the hard way
without hatred in his heart; an honest, courageous and God-fearing,
clean-living, gentlemanly athlete. A credit to his race who always
gave out his best. Gone but not forgotten."
To celebrate his achievements, the Major Taylor Velodrome in
Indianapolis, one of the world's most renowned cycling venues, was
named in his honor. He was posthumously inducted into the U.S.
Bicycling Hall of Fame in 1989.
In 1996, USA Cycling posthumously
awarded Taylor the Korbel Lifetime Achievement Award which was
accepted by his great-granddaughter, Karen Brown-Donovan. In 2003, he was posthumously named a Sports Ethics Fellow by the Institute for International Sport.
"I trust they will
use that terrible prejudice as an inspiration to struggle on to the
heights in their chosen vocations."
-- Major Taylor