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'Major Taylor 1878-1932: A world champion bicycle racer whose fame was undermined by

Old 02-01-19, 10:27 PM
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Arthur Peabody
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'Major Taylor 1878-1932: A world champion bicycle racer whose fame was undermined by

'Major Taylor 1878-1932: A world champion bicycle racer whose fame was undermined by prejudice.'
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/...verlooked.html

A little history for you.
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Old 02-01-19, 11:09 PM
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Wow! What a great read. I’ve seen the Hennessy commercials and figured there must be a grain of truth somewhere in the ad, but never could have imagined such a story. It sounds like there have been more than a couple books written about his life, including his autobiography. Seems like his story would make an interesting movie or documentary. Kudos to NYT for making the effort to look back and acknowledge the stories/obits they missed (or ignored). There’s never a bad time to do the right thing.

Thanks for the post.


-Kedosto
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Old 02-02-19, 12:06 AM
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Major Taylor velodrome

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_Taylor_Velodrome

Been past it many time but never have had a chance to ride it.

Dan
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Old 02-02-19, 08:09 AM
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Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire) who famously refused to race on Sunday? Yeah, uh, Major Taylor had been there and done that.

Jackie Robinson, who 'broke the color barrier'? Yeah, uh, Major Taylor had been there and done that.
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Old 02-02-19, 08:55 AM
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Taylor had two big things working against him. The color of his skin and timing. Jackie Robinson had only one thing working against him, the color of his skin. His time was the right time. The ball club wanted to win more games and increase attendance, both of which Robinson helped along. Thank God for capitalism, otherwise who knows how long it would have taken for people with dark skin complexion to get a shot at the big leagues in sports.
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Old 02-02-19, 09:15 AM
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Originally Posted by TiHabanero View Post
Thank God for capitalism, otherwise who knows how long it would have taken for people with dark skin complexion to get a shot at the big leagues in sports.
^ This is so true. I've often thought the desire to get more paying customers is the real reason for acceptance of different ethnicity and gender in our country. And then eventually it sinks in that we're all the same with similar dreams and aspirations, regardless of skin color.
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Old 02-02-19, 11:54 AM
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"Make yourself economically indispensable." - Booker T. Washington
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Old 02-02-19, 12:26 PM
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I have the book about him. He was an amazing cyclist.
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Old 02-02-19, 12:48 PM
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Great story on The Major.

I think some some of the fighting and crazy competitive stuff went on more between people and teams back then. Hard to say how he was really treated.
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Old 02-03-19, 06:07 AM
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Originally Posted by TiHabanero View Post
Taylor had two big things working against him. The color of his skin and timing. Jackie Robinson had only one thing working against him, the color of his skin. His time was the right time. The ball club wanted to win more games and increase attendance, both of which Robinson helped along. Thank God for capitalism, otherwise who knows how long it would have taken for people with dark skin complexion to get a shot at the big leagues in sports.
That's a pretty shallow comparison that minimizes how hard it was for Robinson. Don't underestimate the dangers he faced playing a team sport against teams that were actively resisting integration, white players on both sides who wanted to see him fail, and touring into segregated cities and playing in segregated ball parks. Also, keep in mind that there was a pretty good chance that the guy hurling a ball towards you at home plate was a racist. By all accounts, the first season with the Dodgers took a huge emotional toll on Robinson, and the stress may have impacted his health later in life.

The difference between the two eras wasn't capitalism, it was that Taylor's era was when Jim Crow was ascendant, and segregation was actually getting worse, while Robinson was supported by a civil rights movement that was just beginning to show its effectiveness. Don't get me wrong, Taylor's accomplishments were incredible, and the obstacles he faced down were both terrifying and all-pervasive. He needs to be celebrated more, but let's not do it at the cost of denigrating another great athlete's amazing accomplishments.
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Old 02-03-19, 01:52 PM
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This blog reproduces some older articles on Major Taylor, including a letter from Taylor to a newspaper asking for fair treatment.

Note that in the letter Taylor claims to be illiterate. I haven't been able to find any information confirming or refuting Taylor's education or literacy. But the letter reads like it was ghost written on Taylor's behalf, with his input. There are some telling phrases, including the ironic quotations around describing himself and his race as the "son of Ham."

If you're familiar with the history of Protestantism, primarily Baptists, in America's deep South and Midwest, you know the implication of that phrase. In many older religious books in early America, through the 1960s, and even from the pulpits, blacks were often referred to as "sons of Ham," a derogatory description based on a theory by racists that black Africans were literal genetic descendants of Ham, the son blamed for "shaming" a drunken Noah. In the most fevered paranoid theories, some who preached a racist doctrine claimed that Ham had castrated the drunken and sleeping Noah so that he'd never produce another rival white son. My ex-father-in-law, a fairly typical Southern Baptist farmer and minister, had a library of older religious books that speculated on these racist themes. To his credit, my ex-FIL disagreed with those theories and I never heard him say anything that could be considered racist. He merely regarded those older books as important to the history of his denomination.

In that context, and the context of the early 20th century, it's a remarkable phrase to use in self description. I'd like to think Major Taylor used it, or agreed with the ghost writer to use it, in an ironic and wry fashion to tweak the sensibilities of newspaper readers. It may be the closest Taylor came to employing the outrageous nose-tweaking tactics of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson a couple of decades later, when Johnson flaunted his sense of anarchy and refusal to bend to systematic racism.

But that's just an example of the level of systematic racism faced by Taylor. By the peak of the Civil Rights era, the "son of Ham" trope had vanished from most white pulpits and religious books, an effort to clean up the appearance of mainstream religion.
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Old 02-03-19, 03:59 PM
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I probably shouldn't, but I find it hard to believe there are cyclists who have never heard of him.
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Old 02-03-19, 04:22 PM
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Great read.
Thank You.
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Old 02-03-19, 04:46 PM
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I had found the Hennessy ad a while back and found it fascinating.

A shame that sport betting drove domestic track racing and the banning of such betting saw the demise.

Before football, baseball, basketball dominance....it was track cycling in Madison Sq Garden.

Hence the one race called.....the Madison.
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Old 02-03-19, 05:05 PM
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Originally Posted by canklecat View Post
This blog reproduces some older articles on Major Taylor, including a letter from Taylor to a newspaper asking for fair treatment.

Note that in the letter Taylor claims to be illiterate. I haven't been able to find any information confirming or refuting Taylor's education or literacy. But the letter reads like it was ghost written on Taylor's behalf, with his input. There are some telling phrases, including the ironic quotations around describing himself and his race as the "son of Ham."

If you're familiar with the history of Protestantism, primarily Baptists, in America's deep South and Midwest, you know the implication of that phrase. In many older religious books in early America, through the 1960s, and even from the pulpits, blacks were often referred to as "sons of Ham," a derogatory description based on a theory by racists that black Africans were literal genetic descendants of Ham, the son blamed for "shaming" a drunken Noah. In the most fevered paranoid theories, some who preached a racist doctrine claimed that Ham had castrated the drunken and sleeping Noah so that he'd never produce another rival white son. My ex-father-in-law, a fairly typical Southern Baptist farmer and minister, had a library of older religious books that speculated on these racist themes. To his credit, my ex-FIL disagreed with those theories and I never heard him say anything that could be considered racist. He merely regarded those older books as important to the history of his denomination.

I don't think he's using "illiterate" to mean incapable of writing or reading, but in the sense of being "unread". I'm just getting that from the context-- it reads more logically that way.

I also think it's significant that he puts "sons of Ham" in quotes. Thanks for the post and the explanation! I've never come across that phrase before. My sense of the letter is he's saying " don't worry, we really don't want to associate with you, we just want a chance to compete fairly. " It really gives you a sense of how awful that time was. Remarkable writing from a 15 year old.

​​​​​​He later wrote his autobiography. I don't think there's anything suggesting it was ghost-written.
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Old 02-03-19, 06:23 PM
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Major Taylor was an awesome dude. It is such a shame that more people don't know about him because his story is excellent and truly inspiring plus TRACK BIKES RULE!
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Old 02-03-19, 06:50 PM
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Originally Posted by livedarklions View Post
I don't think he's using "illiterate" to mean incapable of writing or reading, but in the sense of being "unread". I'm just getting that from the context-- it reads more logically that way.

I also think it's significant that he puts "sons of Ham" in quotes. Thanks for the post and the explanation! I've never come across that phrase before. My sense of the letter is he's saying " don't worry, we really don't want to associate with you, we just want a chance to compete fairly. " It really gives you a sense of how awful that time was. Remarkable writing from a 15 year old.

​​​​​​He later wrote his autobiography. I don't think there's anything suggesting it was ghost-written.
I think it's likely that Major Taylor could read and write at a reasonable level, even if he didn't have much formal education. There were few distractions then -- no internet, TV, radio, no social media clamoring for our attention at every moment. That left plenty of time for folks with naturally curious minds to read. Some people are remarkably adept at teaching themselves to read after only a few hints. Many churches taught parishioners to read -- the influence showed in the often flowery language of people with little formal education, but much influence steeped in church traditions including the King James bible. The letters of Billy the Kid and Jesse James are excellent examples. Taylor also had the incentive of not wanting to be ripped off in agreements, contracts and payment for his professional racing.

However, regarding the letter to the editor signed by Major Taylor, it was common back then -- and for decades afterward -- for a newspaper editor to assign a reporter to rewrite or ghost write guest editorials, commentaries, full page political ads, etc., from anyone who had the money to pay. As a former journalist myself and student of the American tradition, I can see traces of common journalistic tropes in the letter from Major Taylor. That's why I believe Taylor collaborated with a reporter to write the letter in a way that fit the newspaper's style.

In fact, this practice was so common for decades that some of my college newspaper articles sounded nothing like my own writing. I had an excellent writing coach who tried mightily to tighten up my writing style. I had no objections and in a few of my early articles they read more like my writing coach's style than my own. Later he admitted it didn't suit my style and obsession with minutiae, so over time my articles read like my own style. Another retired journalist friend said, with a bit of gentle sarcasm, that his own writing style was more like Hemingway's while mine was more like Proust. A subtly ironic way of reminding me to pare it down a bit. I still haven't mastered that lesson.

Last edited by canklecat; 02-03-19 at 06:58 PM.
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Old 02-04-19, 08:27 AM
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Originally Posted by canklecat View Post
I think it's likely that Major Taylor could read and write at a reasonable level, even if he didn't have much formal education. There were few distractions then -- no internet, TV, radio, no social media clamoring for our attention at every moment. That left plenty of time for folks with naturally curious minds to read. Some people are remarkably adept at teaching themselves to read after only a few hints. Many churches taught parishioners to read -- the influence showed in the often flowery language of people with little formal education, but much influence steeped in church traditions including the King James bible. The letters of Billy the Kid and Jesse James are excellent examples. Taylor also had the incentive of not wanting to be ripped off in agreements, contracts and payment for his professional racing.

However, regarding the letter to the editor signed by Major Taylor, it was common back then -- and for decades afterward -- for a newspaper editor to assign a reporter to rewrite or ghost write guest editorials, commentaries, full page political ads, etc., from anyone who had the money to pay. As a former journalist myself and student of the American tradition, I can see traces of common journalistic tropes in the letter from Major Taylor. That's why I believe Taylor collaborated with a reporter to write the letter in a way that fit the newspaper's style.

In fact, this practice was so common for decades that some of my college newspaper articles sounded nothing like my own writing. I had an excellent writing coach who tried mightily to tighten up my writing style. I had no objections and in a few of my early articles they read more like my writing coach's style than my own. Later he admitted it didn't suit my style and obsession with minutiae, so over time my articles read like my own style. Another retired journalist friend said, with a bit of gentle sarcasm, that his own writing style was more like Hemingway's while mine was more like Proust. A subtly ironic way of reminding me to pare it down a bit. I still haven't mastered that lesson.

It's interesting, though, that the historian interviewed in that blog doesn't think that's what happened. He thinks Taylor may or may not have had help, but it was probably more like someone looking over his shoulder while he wrote it. He certainly seems to have no doubts that Taylor was capable of writing this well, and I'd go with the opinion of someone who's studied him.

The more I read it, the more I admire the subtle sarcastic tone he maintains throughout, not one I think the L.A.W. paper would put in there, or perhaps even notice. I realized after my last post that the "illiterate" comment was actually very clever--he's playing with a stereotype of black people that they're ignorant, but then doing so at the beginning of a missive that's probably better-written than the vast majority of the paper's adult readership were capable of producing. It fits with the theme of the letter when it comes to bicycling--essentially, "you keep putting me down, but I'm better at this than you are." I just think there's also the brashness of youth in the letter--to me, it "feels" like the writing of an extremely intelligent 15 year old.

I really appreciate how much more you know about 19th century journalistic practices than I do, and absolutely respect your opinion on this. As the historian notes, however, we'll never know for sure.
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Old 02-04-19, 08:58 AM
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Originally Posted by TiHabanero View Post
Thank God for capitalism, otherwise who knows how long it would have taken for people with dark skin complexion to get a shot at the big leagues in sports.
Thank God for capitalism if you want but please keep in mind that 618,000 men died in the US Civil War to decide the question of freedom and equality.


-Tim-
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Old 02-04-19, 10:00 AM
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Originally Posted by TimothyH View Post
Thank God for capitalism if you want but please keep in mind that 618,000 men died in the US Civil War to decide the question of freedom and equality.


-Tim-

Perfect post Tim !
I Agee 100%.

I don't want to derail this thread, but just a side question to you. Your user name TiHabanero suggests to me anyway that you might be affiliated with or have a Titanium bike from Habanero Bikes. Just wanted to ask. I have a custom made Habanero titanium road bike myself.
Bob
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Old 02-04-19, 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by TimothyH View Post
Thank God for capitalism if you want but please keep in mind that 618,000 men died in the US Civil War to decide the question of freedom and equality.


-Tim-

ahh

what about states rights?

Major Taylor was good at what he did. That is what life is about. Be good at your job. Do it to the best of your ability. There will definately be obstacles in the way during the process. Expect and Embrace these challenges.
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Old 02-04-19, 12:29 PM
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He is the role model that many young blacks should know about and look up to.
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Old 02-04-19, 12:39 PM
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*smh*
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Old 02-04-19, 01:12 PM
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No one should have to expect or embrace challenges like slavery or Jim Crow. To say that he was "good at what he did" really trivializes his accomplishments.

Originally Posted by Rajflyboy View Post
what about states rights?

Major Taylor was good at what he did. That is what life is about. Be good at your job. Do it to the best of your ability. There will definately be obstacles in the way during the process. Expect and Embrace these challenges.
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Old 02-04-19, 01:28 PM
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Originally Posted by GailT View Post
No one should have to expect or embrace challenges like slavery or Jim Crow. To say that he was "good at what he did" really trivializes his accomplishments.
He's just trying to stir the pot.
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