Sports | April 28, 2018 5:00 am

Who Is Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor?

The turn-of-the-century cyclist had a pioneering career on par with Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson.

Marshall "Major" Taylor
Marshall "Major" Taylor standing with his bike. (Wikipedia)

In 1896, Marshall “Major” Taylor, 18, was in his first professional bicycle race. He was the lone African American in the otherwise all-white field. Half the field dropped out because of crashes, exhaustion or hallucinations, but Taylor finished the Six Day Bicycle Race in Madison Square Garden after completing a record 1,732 miles on the 0.1-mile track. The New York Times described Taylor as the “wonder” of the event. This race launched an unrivaled career.

According to Outside, Taylor became sprint world champion in 1899, and then was known internationally after traveling to European capitals and later to Australia, winning everything and everywhere. He wowed tens of thousands at the Parc des Princes in Paris and the Sydney Cricket Ground, two of the world’s most iconic sporting venues. He faced down bigotry, hostility, death threats and a rider boycott. Taylor’s story, long overlooked, is finally getting told. A sliver of it s being relayed through a high-profile, big-budget Hennessy ad campaign, voiced by rapper and hip-hop artist Nas. The ad’s theme is “What is it that you’re fighting for?” and in, you can see a portrayal of Taylor blasting past white competitors on a period-era track.

A short-form documentary, The Six Day Race: The Story of Marshall “Major” Taylor, also sponsored by Hennessy, is set to debut on ESPN on Sunday, April 22. The film is framed around Taylor’s six-day race, using a mixture of archival footage and photos to animate the story. The documentary also tells the stories of contemporary African American athletes Taylor has influenced, including aspiring pro road bicycle racer Ayesha McGowan and pro BMX rider Nigel Sylvester.