Friday, June 21, 2013

Marshall Taylor: The Black Cyclone and the Color Line

Marshall Taylor was the fastest man in the world in 1900.  

Taylor broke dozens of world records before he was 30, and competed regularly - also winning regularly - across the United States and Europe.  As a black man in America in the early 20th century, Taylor's accomplishments were especially remarkable.  Taylor won a world cycling championship more than a decade before before the legendary Jack Johnson, "The Black Bomber," won his world boxing title.  

Taylor dominated the track, whether in short races or in the infamous "six-day races"  popular in the early 20th century.   The Smithsonian reported:

" 1896, he finished eighth in his first six-day race at New York’s Madison Square Garden, even though the hallucinations got to him; at one point he said, 'I cannot go on with safety, for there is a man chasing me around the ring with a knife in his hand.'”

Despite Taylor's success - he had seven world records to his name before he was 20, winning 29 or the 49 races he entered - he was banned from riding in the American South.   In 1902, Taylor traveled to Europe where he would continue to dominate the track.

Taylor would retire at 32 in Chicago, IL, where he would write and publish his autobiography, The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World.   “I felt I had my day,” he wrote, “and a wonderful day it was too.” 

The financial collapse of 1929 and bad investments would leave Taylor penniless by the time of his death at 53 in 1932. His body would lay unclaimed in a morgue, and he was buried in a modest grave at Mount Glenwood Cemetery in Chicago.

Frank Schwinn, head of the Schwinn Bicycle Company, would later pay to have Taylor's body exhumed and relocated to Mount Glenwood's  Memorial Garden of the Good Shepard.  Schwinn also commissioned a plaque for Taylor's grave, which despite it's pejorative commentary on "his race," is touching nonetheless:

"Worlds champion bicycle racer who came up the hard way—Without hatred in his heart—An honest, courageous and God-fearing, clean-living gentlemanly athlete.  A credit to his race who always gave out his best—Gone but not forgotten.”

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Photos from the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968

As part of their Digital Photo Repository, The University of Memphis has a fantastic collection of photos from the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968.  Jim Lawson, chair of the strike's leadership committee, was a key leader in the Memphis campaign.

Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr. marching with strike supporters during one of the twice daily marches held in downtown Memphis throughout the campaign.

Rev. Lawson addresses the crowd at the Memphis Cares event held just days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Crump Stadium in Midtown Memphis

Rev. Lawson addresses the City Council in February of 1968 after the council rejected the workers' call for union recognition
 The University of Memphis' digital archive has a host of excellent photos from Memphis' past, and the photos in the Sanitation Strike are just a sampling of the overall collection available in the archive.