Major Taylor, Champion Cyclist
Gr. 2-4, younger for reading aloud. African American cyclist Major Taylor, 1899 World Cycling champion, was as famous for the color of his skin as he was for his indomitability on the racetrack. This account covers Taylor’s transformation from a kid who loved to ride, “aware only of the wind against his face and the road he left behind,” into an internationally known athlete. His story bears all the elements of a traditional sports tale, complete with a climactic showdown between rivals and a triumphant ending. Yet the theme of racism looms large, from the white bike-shop owner who treats 13-year-old Taylor as a publicity gimmick to the white competitors who “boxed him out” during races. Cline-Ransome’s storytelling is less smooth and sprightly than it was in Satchel Paige (2000), but her husband’s arresting oil paintings capture the beauty of an athlete in peak condition, and, like the similarly stark compositions of Edward Hopper, express bitter emotions simmering under the surface. A thoughtful afterword puts Taylor’s career into grim perspective: he died a pauper, his former glory all but forgotten.