Lynne Tolman is a very inspired person and a real joy to be associated with.Â Her organization is doing good things and people should get behind them. I want to do a three part series on Major Taylor and related subjects.Â This is the first.Â Campocat
JC Lynne, tell everyone what the Major Taylor Association is all about and your place in the organization.
@##=#<3,L>@##=#LT The Major Taylor Association is dedicated to recognition of the 1899 world champion cyclist who overcame racial prejudice to become the first internationally acclaimed African-American sports star: Marshall W. “Major” Taylor. This was half a century before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, but not nearly as many people know about Major Taylor. Major Taylor faced closed doors and open hostility with remarkable dignity, earning admiration not only for his athletic achievements but also his strength of character. Although he was rich and famous at the height of his track racing career at the turn of the last century, Major Taylor’s fame faded quickly in his retirement, and he died in poverty and obscurity. We don’t think this trailblazer should be forgotten, so we are putting up a statue of Major Taylor in his adopted hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts, and we also work with schools and other groups to educate people about his life and legacy.Â I’m on the board of directors of the Major Taylor Association, which is a nonprofit organization based in Worcester.
JC How did you get involved in cycling and this labor of love?
LT Cycling has been my No. 1 hobby for almost 20 years. I ride mostly with a Worcester club called Seven Hills Wheelmen – recreational riding, not racing. The only bike race I’ve ever done is the George Street Bike Challenge for Major Taylor, which is an uphill time trial that the Major Taylor Association stages as a fundraiser. It’s on a wicked steep street in downtown Worcester where Major Taylor used to train. The first year I won a medal, but only because there were only a few women in my age category. Now we’re in our fifth year and the race has really grown, and I am no longer a medal contender. This year’s George Street race will be July 23.
I’m a journalist by profession. I’m an editor at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and I used to be a reporter here on the city desk, and on the side I wrote a cycling column for the sports section, for about a decade. In the early 1990s I came across a mention of Major Taylor, who was nicknamed “the Worcester Whirlwind,” in a cycling book, and I found some old clippings about him in the newspaper’s library. His story really struck me, and I wrote a column about him. Then in the late 1990s some other people in Worcester stumbled onto the story and floated the statue idea, which quickly caught on. Everyone who hears about Major Taylor is inspired, and not only by his amazing speed. As he titled his autobiography, he was “The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World,” and this was at a time when cars and aviation were in their infancy, so really he was the fastest human on the planet. I think people are hungry for heroes, for role models, and here’s a guy who quietly, powerfully stood up for what was right, against immense pressure. For the most part, on the bike he let his legs do the talking, and people really respected that.
JC I have seen pictures of your events and your travels, it seems you really like riding your bike.
LT I love cycling. Besides the obvious benefits for health and fitness, and not burning up fossil fuels and polluting the planet, cycling is a great way to explore and experience your surroundings. I’ve gotten to know my own area and many other parts of New England by biking the back roads, and I love cycling on vacation in new places. You see so much more over the handlebars than from behind a windshield, and the locals are really nice to you when they see you sweating the hills they call home. I also really like bike people in general, and I’ve met many, many cool people through cycling. The cycling community is truly that, a community – a variety of people who share a bond. I’m especially amazed by bike racers, because I know how hard and how beautiful it is to go fast, to go uphill, to go in a paceline or in a bunch.
JC What is this statue thing all about and do you think it will last very longÂ once installed. I say that because I have seen in NYC so much statuary vanish under the guise of fixing or cleaning never to be seen or heard of again.
@##=#<2,R>@##=#LT The Major Taylor statue will be Worcester’s first public monument to an African-American, and that’s obviously long overdue. It’s important for public art to reflect the diversity in a community and its heritage. If all the images of people on pedestals that you’re ever exposed to are white males, and you’re not a white male, you internalize that message; you’re being told that people like you weren’t important and can’t be important. The Major Taylor piece also will be one of the few statues of a cyclist anywhere in the United States, and as a cyclist of course I’m delighted to see our sport in the limelight.
Statue durability and maintenance is a legitimate concern, and that was a big factor in choosing the design by sculptor Toby Mendez. The Major Taylor statue will be at the entrance to the Worcester Public Library, not some isolated spot that invites neglect or vandalism. The bronze figures will be in relief, not freestanding, so they’ll be less fragile. And weÂ will set up a maintenance endowment so money is always available to take care of the statue. Another factor in selecting this artist and design was the educational component, especially given the library site. The design includes some text explaining who Major Taylor was, and some of his own words, from his autobiography. We envision people checking out the statue and then going into the library to look up more information about Major Taylor.
JC This one is for you, Lynne, to add anything you like, and I want to thank you for telling about yourself and your organization’s good work on behalf of cycling and Major Taylor.
LT During the seven or so years we spent fundraising for the Major Taylor statue, we have established rewarding relationships with some really terrific groups. Bike people, as I said, have been fast friends, from minority-oriented cycling clubs such as Major Taylor Iron Riders in New York, and the Major Taylor Cycling Club of New York/New Jersey, and the Major Motion Cycling Club in California, to larger clubs such as Narragansett Bay Wheelmen in Rhode Island and the Charles River Wheelmen in Boston and the Cherry Capital Cycling Club in Michigan, to bike shops all over the place, to advocacy groups such as the League of American Bicyclists and the Chicagoland BicycleÂ Federation. Then of course are all the people sincerely committed to spotlighting black history, you could call it, or black people’s contributions to history, and celebrating diversity in today’s world. The interfaith community is an overlapping set of fans, people for whom Major Taylor’s devotion to his religion really resonates. There’s even a blues song about Major Taylor, “He Never Raced on Sunday,” by Colorado singer-songwriter Otis Taylor (no relation), who’s also a cyclist and former cycling coach. All of these supporters amplified a healthy dose of Massachusetts civic pride, and all of these voices contributed – led us out for the final sprint, to use a cycling metaphor – when we lobbied for state funding to get us to the finish line. Just last month (June 2006), Massachusetts approved $205,000 for the Major Taylor statue, and we’re really grateful to four legislators in particular who pushed for this: Sen. Harriette Chandler, Rep. John Binienda, Rep. Jim Leary, and Rep. Byron Rushing. You know, Major Taylor usually had to go it alone, but times have changed, and we’re proud to be part of a big team effort. A lot of people have been pulling hard for a long way, and now it’s time for the champion to shine.
Major Taylor’s bike.