Marshall 'Major' Taylor - cycling's first Black world champion - could receive a Congressional Medal, 92 years after his death

The award would be in recognition of his significance to the nation as an athlete, trailblazer, role model and equal rights advocate

Major Taylor
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tomorrow, December 7, 2023, U.S. Congressman Jonathan L. Jackson (D-IL-01) will introduce a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to Marshall Walter "Major" Taylor – cycling's first Black world champion – in recognition of his significance to the nation as an athlete, trailblazer, role model and equal rights advocate. 

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award in the United States. The only other cyclist to have been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal is Greg LeMond

The proposed legislation is cited as the "Marshall 'Major' Taylor Congressional Gold Medal Act" is co-signed by a bipartisan group of Members of Congress but will need the approval of two-thirds of both chambers to be considered. 

Born in November 1878 in Indianapolis, Indiana, to parents likely formerly enslaved in Kentucky, Taylor's life was one of both staggering triumphs and daunting challenges. 

Throughout his career, Taylor overcame constant racial discrimination, closed doors, open hostility and numerous instances of racial prejudice to become one of the greatest track cyclists of all time

Known as the "Worcester Whirlwind," Taylor won both national and world championships and held numerous world records —including the standing start one-mile world record of 1:41 that stood for 28 years. Despite facing racial prejudice from an early age, Taylor emerged as one of the first Black athletes to secure corporate sponsorship, becoming one the highest-paid athletes of his era.

In addition to his lightning-fast sprints, Taylor was also known for his sportsmanship, disciplined training and devotion to his faith. Taylor retired from racing in 1910 and, 18 years later, published his autobiography, "The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World," in which he called for justice, equal rights and fair treatment for African Americans in sports and beyond. 

With this Congressional Gold Medal, Congressman Jackson hopes to not only commemorate his contributions but also educate future generations about his remarkable story.

In speaking with Cycling Weekly, Congressman Jackson's Communications Director, Matt Schoonmaker, called Taylor America's First Black Sports Star and more pointedly, "the greatest athlete you have never heard of."

"Congressman Jackson (also the son of Rev. Jesse Jackson) wasn't initially familiar with him. Most folks aren't, unfortunately," Schoonmaker said. "But the Congressman came across him and the more he learned about him, the more passionate he's become about it."

In presenting the legislation, Congressman Jackson has 26 bipartisan cosponsors, including Republican co-lead Jim Baird (R-IN-04), 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) and John Duarte (R-CA-13). 

If the legislation is passed, the medal will be presented posthumously to Taylor's great-granddaughter, Karen Donovan.

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