With the first of the remaining European Six-Days evens, the one in Amsterdam, about to start in less than two weeks and the darker days of Fall having arrived already, this is a good time to remind everyone of one of the darker stories of the early times of the Six-Days:
In the late 19th and early 20th century, cycling and bike racing was a sports that did not allow for any African Americans to participate on a professional level. Black athletes consequently had to stay away from cycling – or stay away from the finish line until some white riders had crossed it.
Young black Marshall Walter „Major“ Taylor did neither, though. Which led, not surprisingly at the time, to him being banned from the tracks in 1895. But he must have been a stubborn (or simply highly enthusiastic) rider, because he simply relocated from his native Indiana to the only US state which allowed people to ride based on their athletic capabilities, not the color of their skin, Massachusetts.
Only a year later, „Major“ Taylor had his debut as a professional in Madison Square Garden, riding the Six-Days there, at the birthplace of the Six-Days discipline of „Madison“ which – in my opinion – is still the heart and soul of any Six-Days event. Taylor must have blown across the half-mile track as he lapped the entire field and won that race. That earned him the nice sum of $200, a small fortune for a young black man at that time. Then again, these were the days when cycling in the US was as popular as baseball – maybe even more popular as the mother of all US-typical sports of bat and ball. So the riders were heroes and treated (and paid) as such.
WNBC-TV (Channel 4) New York featured „Major“ Taylor, the first black athlete ever to win a world championship in any discipline, in a segment broadcast on Nov. 24, 2007. You will learn, among other things how Marshall Taylor became „Major“ Taylor, namely as a young trick rider performing stunts in front of a bike shop, wearing a uniform (and earning $ 6 / week and, which must have been too good to resist, a brand new bicycle).
But a picture paints a thousand words, and a handful of really good pictures can be found in this YouTube piece:
Go to one of this Fall’s Six-Days events and enjoy the Madison!
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