Rep. Jonathan L. Jackson Introduces The Marshall “Major” Taylor Congressional Gold Medal Act

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Major Taylor Was America’s First Black Sports Star

WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 7, 2023) — Today, U.S. Representatives Jonathan L. Jackson (D-IL-01) and Jim Baird (R-IN-04) led 32 of their colleagues in introducing the bipartisan Marshall “Major” Taylor Congressional Gold Medal Act. This legislation would posthumously award a Congressional Gold Medal to Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor — America’s first Black sports star, but someone many have never heard of — in recognition of his significance to the nation as a trailblazing athlete. 

Taylor managed to become the first African American world champion in any sport and earned the title of “world’s fastest man” despite the extraordinary challenges of the Jim Crow era. He endured attempts by white promoters in both the North and South to exclude him from races. White riders, too, subjected Taylor to curses, insults, and even physical harm during competitions. Despite these adversities, Taylor’s exceptional talent and tenacity turned him into a sensation, drawing tens of thousands at races across the United States, Europe, and Australia.

Major Taylor racing at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“It is without question that Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor was a man before his time, a stellar athlete, a leader in the field of cycling, and a trailblazer,” said Rep. Jackson. “I believe it is fitting that Congress award the ‘world’s fastest man’ one of our nation’s most prestigious honors.”

“Even when compared to today’s athletes, Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor is among the greatest cyclists of all time,” said Rep. Baird. “His accomplishments are especially impressive considering the challenges he faced on his climb to cycling greatness. Marshall Taylor is one of the greatest athletes in Indiana history, and I can think of no one better suited to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.”

“Marshall W. ‘Major’ Taylor challenged both the odds and the adversity of his time with dignity and determination, and he went on to ultimately triumph,” said Karen Brown Donovan, the great-granddaughter of Major Taylor. “The awarding of a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal would be a significant achievement towards honoring his life and legacy.”

Supporting Individuals and Groups

Co-lead: Jim Baird (R-IN-04)

Original Cosponsors (32 total): Danny Davis (D-IL-07), Robin Kelly (D-IL-02), André Carson (D-IN-07), Henry “Hank” Johnson (D-GA-04), Barbara Lee (D-CA-12), Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC), Janice Schakowsky (D-IL-09), Mike Quigley (D-IL-05), Earl Blumenauer (D-WA-03), James McGovern (D-MA-02), David Scott (D-GA-13), Gwen Moore (D-WI-04), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX-18), Mike Thompson (D-CA-04), Jasmine Crockett (D-TX-30), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-07), Alma Adams (D-NC-12), Al Green (D-TX-09), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI-12), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-08), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-FL-20), Chuy Garcia (D-IL-04), David Trone (D-MD-06), Ann Kuster (D-NH-02), John Duarte (R-CA-13), Frederica Wilson (D-FL-24), Tony Gonzales (R-TX-23), Debbie Dingell (D-MI-06), Ted Lieu (D-CA-36), Maxwell Frost (D-FL-10), Joe Wilson (R-SC-02).

Supporting Organizations: Bronzeville Trail Task Force, Inc., Major Taylor Association, Washington Area Bicyclist Association, League of American Bicyclists, ADD Impact Network & Bike to the Beach, and Black Girls Do Bike, Inc. 

“For Taylor to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the U. S. Congress, would finally recognize and acknowledge the astounding achievement by an African American professional cyclist during the Jim Crow Era of the early 20th century,” said John Adams, Founder and Executive Director, the Bronzeville Trail Task Force, Inc., a Chicago non-profit that launched its Major Taylor Initiative in January 2023 to advocate for Taylor to receive civic recognition that was long overdue. “Taylor became world champion and was known as the world’s fastest man. We are honored to lead this effort and thankful that so many have joined us in seeking this recognition and elevating him to his rightful place in the U.S. sports and civil rights history.”

“As a barrier-breaking athlete, an advocate for racial equality and fairness, an exemplar of good sportsmanship, and a paragon of human dignity, Major Taylor earned global fame in his lifetime but didn’t always get the national recognition he deserved,” said Lynne Tolman, President, Major Taylor Association, Inc. “A posthumous Congressional Gold Medal will cement his place in U.S. history.”

“The League is thrilled to support this effort by Rep. Jackson to recognize one of the greatest cyclists in history, Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor, for his accomplishments, his impact, and his legacy with a Congressional Gold Medal,” said Bill Nesper, Executive Director of the League of American Bicyclists. “Major Taylor was ‘the fastest man in America’, a global superstar who set world records and brought home world championships. As a Black athlete at the turn of the 20th century, he faced racism throughout his life and career from spectators, competitors, race organizers, and the bicycling community, including the League. The League agrees with Rep. Jackson that Major Taylor deserved better back then, and he deserves this recognition now. We’re proud to be part of ensuring the nation celebrates Major Taylor for the path he blazed for future generations.” 

“We talk a lot about diversity today,” said Elizabeth Kiker, Executive Director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor brought diversity to the cycling world by himself many, many years before it was safe or expected to do so. It is long past time for him to receive this honor — and we are grateful to Rep. Jackson for bringing it forward.

“Major Taylor is one of the greatest athletes to have ever lived, but his greatness as a pioneering athlete has never been fully recognized,” said Hector J. Garcia, Jr., Executive Director of the ADD Impact Network & Bike to the Beach. “At a time of deep divisions and partisanship, I applaud this bipartisan group of Members of Congress for working to rectify this oversight and look forward to the day when the Marshall “Major” Taylor Congressional Gold Medal Act passes into law.”

“I wholeheartedly endorse the ‘Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor Congressional Gold Medal Act,” said Monica Garrison, Founder and Executive Director Black Girls Do Bike, Inc. “‘Major’ Taylor was not just a remarkable athlete but a true trailblazer and advocate who shattered racial barriers in the world of cycling. This bill rightly recognizes his historic significance and contributions to our nation. I commend Rep. Jackson for his efforts in championing this cause and urge all to support the bill, ensuring that Major Taylor’s legacy continues to inspire generations to come.”

About Major Taylor

Taylor, the son of a veteran who fought in the Civil War, was born in 1878. Despite racial tension, Taylor was educated and viewed as an adopted son by an affluent white family from Indianapolis, Indiana, who also employed his father, Gilbert Taylor. Due to his relationship with the family, Taylor received gifts, including his first bicycle. Upon receiving the bicycle, Taylor displayed natural talent. 

Taylor received the nickname “Major” as a child while performing bicycle tricks outside of his workplace at Hay & Willits Manufacturing, Indiana Bicycle Co., in Indianapolis. His employer was so impressed with his abilities that the company enrolled him in his first race, which he won at the age of eleven. Taylor moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, with his employer, mentor, and racing manager, Louis D. “Birdie” Munger, in 1895, because Munger was forced out of his Indianapolis-based firm due to his mentorship of Taylor.

In 1896, at the age of eighteen, Taylor received a professional racing license from the League of American Wheelmen, despite the league’s 1894 “white only” rule for amateur membership. This membership led to his eventual professional debut.  

Later that year, Taylor gained notoriety in his first professional contest by competing in the “Six Day Race” at Madison Square Garden in New York City. This race was considered a test of endurance, where cyclists would test both their mental and physical ability in front of a packed house at the Garden. At the conclusion of day six, Taylor finished eighth out of twenty-six and cycled roughly 1,732 miles.

In 1899, Taylor would win the world one-mile sprint championship in Montréal, becoming the first Black American and the second Black athlete to win a world title. Taylor would go on to set seven cycling records and become the first Black world champion, which led to his being considered the first international superstar. Taylor would even revolutionize the sport by creating an innovative adjustable handlebar stem, which to date is called the “Major Taylor Stem.”

While experiencing racial prejudice throughout his career, Taylor became one of the first Black athletes to secure corporate sponsorships. He represented bicycle brands such as Iver Johnson, Sager, Stearns, and Orient, eventually becoming one of the wealthiest Black men in America. Due to his devout commitment to his faith, Taylor refused to race on Sundays, which led to him turning down a significant number of lucrative offers to race in Europe. However, once he achieved international superstardom, Taylor was able to negotiate “no Sundays” provisions in his European racing contracts. 

Taylor retired from racing in 1910 and started many business ventures. In 1928, he published his autobiography “The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World” with the intent of impacting justice, equal rights, and the ‘square deal’ for African Americans in sports. 

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