Major Taylor

Background Reading

Summary

Marshall "Major" Taylor was the first African-American athlete to win a world championship in any sport. [Photo Courtesy of the Major Taylor Association]

Marshall “Major” Taylor was the first African-American athlete to win a world championship in any sport. [Photo Courtesy of the Major Taylor Association]

HYDE PARK — Most people today have likely never seen a velodrome, but for more than two decades, they were better known than the football pitch by most Americans.

A velodrome is a bowled track used for bicycle racing, and between the 1890s and 1910s the sport rivaled boxing as the most popular in the United States.

Today, Chicago has only one velodrome in South Chicago at 8615 S. Burley Ave., that cycling activists are close to reopening after it was shuttered for nine months.

At the turn of the century, racers were often working-class guys with nicknames like “The Terrible Swede,” “Torchey” or “The Black Cyclone” striving for fame and wealth on the city’s six permanent tracks and a slew of temporary tracks.

The first African-American athlete to ever win a world championship in any sport was a velodrome cyclist in Chicago.

Marshall “Major” Taylor set his first world record for the fastest one-mile race on the Garfield Park velodrome in 1899, according to his biographer.

Taylor, aka “The Black Cyclone,” got his start racing on Chicago’s tracks before going on to become the World Sprint Champion in 1899 and 1900 at a time when African-Americans still could not participate in races in the South.

Taylor broke the color line in bicycle racing in Chicago 50 years before Jackie Robinson signed a contract to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945.

Though Taylor brought home more than $35,000 a year in winnings at the turn of the century, more than $700,000 in today’s money, he died a pauper in Bronzeville in 1932 because of the stock market crash of 1929.

The former Chicago Stadium at 1800 W. Madison St., the first permanent home for the Chicago Blackhawks, was once just as popular an arena for bicycle racing as for hockey.


TakeAways

Marshall "Major" Taylor died in Bronzeville after losing the majority of his wealth in the stock market crash of 1929. [Photo Courtesy of the Burns Archive]

Marshall “Major” Taylor died in Bronzeville after losing the majority of his wealth in the stock market crash of 1929. [Photo Courtesy of the Burns Archive]

Some things never change. Nowadays the African-American population in Chicago is in danger of the same loss of wealth and home because of another stock market collapse.

The more things change the more they stay the same.

But look on the bright side, this time those that control the purse strings will give us protected bike lanes and Divvy stations in exchange for closing 50 schools! In case you did not realize it this is what they now call cycling equity. That so sweet of them!

And to sweeten the deal the Active Transportation Alliance is willing to allow the city to keep gouging its black-and-brown residents via the newest form of Jim Crow Legislation the red light camera.