BRONZEVILLE — The country’s first competitive Black cyclist may be one step closer to receiving a posthumous honor.
South Side Rep. Jonathan Jackson and co-sponsors Reps. Robin Kelly and Danny K. Davis hope to shore up more bipartisan support for the ‘‘Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor Congressional Gold Medal Act,’’ a move to honor the famed athlete 91 years after his death.
The representatives were scheduled to introduce the bill into the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday.
The congressional medal has honored “actors, authors, entertainers, musicians, pioneers in aeronautics and space, explorers, lifesavers, notables in science and medicine, athletes, humanitarians, public servants and foreign recipients,” according to the U.S. House of Representatives website.
Its first honoree was President George Washington in 1776. The most recent were Emmett Till and Mamie-Till Mobley, who received the honor in the civil rights category in January.
There’s a piece of Taylor’s story in each of of co-sponsor’s respective districts.
Jackson’s district is home to the Wabash YMCA, 3763 S. Wabash Ave., where the cyclist lived in his final years. Cook County Hospital, now Stroger Hospital at 1969 W. Ogden Ave., is in Davis’s district.
In Kelly’s south suburban district lies Mount Glenwood Cemetery, where Taylor was laid to rest in an unmarked grave. Later, money donated by cycling magnate Frank Schwinn was used to move his remains to a more prominent part of the cemetery and to buy a headstone.
Several of the trio’s Democratic colleagues are backing the bill, including Georgia Rep. Henry “Hank” Johnson, California Rep. Barbera Lee and D.C. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
“We stand on the shoulders of giants. Marshall Walter ‘Major’ Taylor was such a giant. He faced down the relentless specter of racial discrimination, both on and off the race track. His courage, not just in the realm of sports, but in the greater race of life, set the stage for the victories of the Civil Rights Movement,” Jackson said in a statement.
“Today, we seek not just to honor a world-class athlete, but to pay homage to an American hero who dared to defy the boundaries of his time, and in doing so, paved the way for a more just and equal society. His life and achievements continue to inspire us to challenge the status quo and strive for a fair and equitable world.”
The bill must be sponsored by at least two-thirds of the House and 67 senators before it can be considered by special committees, in addition to other requirements.
Born in 1878 in Indiana, Taylor was the first Black cyclist to win a world championship. He spent most of his career traveling the world as he broke records and collected medals, despite efforts to block him from competing because he was Black.
In 1896, he set two records at Capital City Track in Indianapolis, unofficially beating the world record for one-fifth of a mile and beating the 1-mile time for that track. His achievement so offended whites that Taylor was banned from the track.
Taylor won the 1-mile world title in 1899 in Montreal, Canada, making him only the second Black person to win a world championship in any sport. He broke the 1-mile world record again a few months later.
Taylor was finally allowed to finish the national championship race series and became the American sprint champion in 1900. He retired from racing in 1910 at 32.
While the man known as “The Black Cyclone” received a number of accolades around the world during his brief, wondrous life, Taylor’s final years after his return stateside were marred by racism, bad luck and bad investments that left him destitute. He died in 1932.
There have been several initiatives to belatedly give Taylor his flowers.
After a 10-year effort, the Forest Preserves of Cook County dedicated the 8.1-mile walk and bike path in the Far South Side’s Dan Ryan Woods as the Major Taylor Trail in 2007. Efforts are ongoing to improve the infrastructure along the path.
The Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago formed in 2008, inspired by its namesake to welcome people of ages and abilities into the sport.
Chicago artist Bernard Williams painted the 400-foot Major Taylor Trail mural along a pedestrian bridge over the Little Calumet River in 2017.
The congressional bill is the result of efforts by organizations like the Bronzeville Trail Task Force, the Major Taylor Trail and the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago, with members from each group spending months circulating petitions calling for national recognition of the world-renowned athlete.
Getting the honor for Taylor would also give a major boost to the task force’s $100 million plan to convert two miles of abandoned rail line into a bike and walking trail. The group recently unveiled a trio of options they’re exploring for the restoration of the Kenwood Line embankment, which would serve as an entry point for the trail.
Bronzeville Task Force Chair John Adams said there’s precedent for such an honor for an athlete. Retired professional cyclist Greg LeMond was awarded one by former president Donald Trump in 2020.
“Several athletes have received the honor in the past, so we know it can be done,” said Adams.
The task force launched a GoFundMe campaign last December to raise $100,000 that would cover operational costs and help with expenses incurred from their Major Taylor Initiative, which includes the installation of a $550,000 sculpture bearing Taylor’s likeness at the trail’s entrance.
Another part of their Major Taylor initiative calling for a commemorative postage stamp to honor the cyclist is underway as well, Adams said.
The announcement of the bill coincides with the second annual Major Taylor Convention being held in Indianapolis this weekend. Jackson is slated to deliver the keynote address. Adams will also be there.
Adams said the task force intends to broaden their fundraising efforts, launching a global campaign early next year as they work with Jackson, Davis and Kelly to drum up more political support.
“This has been a total grassroots effort, not a ‘top-down’ initiative or process. This is all from community organizing,” Adams said.
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