The story of late 19th century American track racer Marshall "Major" Taylor is well-known among cyclists, with the rags-to-riches-to-rags tale of triumph and tragedy. But thanks to a decade-long effort by passionate locals, Taylor's memory has finally been honored by the city where he lived during his rise to world fame and heartbreaking decline to poverty. Alan Coté was in Worcester, Massachusetts for the unveiling of the monument to honour the late champion.
The African-American Taylor, born in 1878, set seven world record times on the track in 1896, before earning a world championship title 1899. He ranks as the second black athlete to achieve a world title (after boxer George Dixon), only a generation after slavery was abolished in the US. But the speed of Taylor's competitors was less of an obstacle for him than the oppressive racism of the times. Despite earning a substantial fortune as an international sports star, limited opportunities and unfortunate business ventures later sent Taylor's life spiraling downward. Estranged from his wife and daughter, he died in a Chicago charity ward at age 54, a forgotten and broken man buried in an unmarked grave.
Raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, Taylor moved to Worcester, Massachusetts in 1895 to escape the overt discrimination found in the Midwest. He found much more progressive thinking in this New England city, which he'd call home for the next 35 years.
Taylor's memory went unnoticed by his adopted hometown for decades. There was a downtown criterium for a few years in the early 1980s, paying tribute by borrowing Taylor's nickname, the Worcester Whirlwind, for the event. Then in the late 1990s, a group of dedicated locals formed the Major Taylor Association.
The Major Taylor Association's indefatigable efforts, spearheaded by cyclist Lynne Tolman, a staffer for The Worcester Telegram newspaper, culminated in a glorious morning on May 21, 2008. Under blue skies, a crowd of hundreds gathered in the garden courtyard of Worcester's city library to witness sport luminaries, Taylor's descendents, Association members, and local politicians unveil an impressive bronze and granite statue.
Read this Major feature.