Who was Major Taylor?

"The Other Side"

A letter from Major Taylor, age 15, to the editor of the cycling magazine The Bearings was published on Feb. 9, 1894, under the headline "The Other Side." The magazine's introduction explains that the letter addresses the question of whether membership in the League of American Wheelmen should be restricted to white people. The full text of the letter is below. On Feb. 20, 1894, the LAW did adopt a "white only" membership rule; it wasn't formally repealed until 1999. Biographer Andrew Ritchie discusses the letter here.

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The Bearings is always ready to give both sides of a story and although it is against the admission of the negro to the L.A.W., yet it is willing to give the colored man a chance to air his views in its columns. The following interesting letter from a colored cyclist of Indianapolis gives a side of the question which has not been touched on before:

Editor The Bearings: I am a cyclist; further, I am a negro. I have hesitated a long time, but now I think it high time for some one of my color to say a few words in regard to the great (?) question which is causing so much controversy between the different sections of the L.A.W.

It may be because I am illiterate that I have heard or read nothing from the negro, but to my knowledge there has been no argument between any of them and the politicians, who are using them as part of their “stock in trade,” to further their interests as great leaders or party bosses. However strong their argument may seem, I for one can only think that it’s not the “coon” they want, neither is it their dollar – but their big black vote is the coveted prize.

There is not a member of the League that desires me or any of my colored friends for a club mate, or to be one of my brothers in any fraternity, and every good sound negro who has horse sense enough to ride one of those grand machines knows that as well as I. We are gaining in numbers every year, and unless this great League looks to its affairs and leaves politics alone to a greater extent, the near future will see a colored man’s organization in the field that will bring about a heap more in the way of the good cause than the L.A.W. ever has.

I have ridden a wheel perhaps longer than many of your members and have always found plenty of enjoyment without an L.A.W. pin or a Bi. World, and have never had any more desire to become one of its members than I would to have a white man join our little church, instead of the one across the street, which is for whites only. Give us your good will and let us think of our own troubles. If our vote is worth so much, it will be given freely to any good cause, and it can grow much faster if cultivated by our own party.

Negroes who wish to mix with white men are not so plentiful as you think. This great United States government has elevated us, given us education and strength to act for ourselves – for which we are very grateful – but we are still a race as different from others as God first made us.

As cyclists we are still young, but as pleasure seekers we are old. Sociability is at least one half of a negro’s life and we know that we can not derive a portion of our existence in the social circles of the white race. We want nothing from from south, north, east, or west but that which we are entitled to, and that is certainly not membership to any white man’s league of wheelmen.

I trust that you will find space in your valuable paper for this letter, that it may be an opening shot in the way of “putting up,” instead of “down,” the “son of Ham,” as he grows interested in cycling. Hoping to hear from the colored cyclists as a body in the near future, I still remain a true lover of what is right for both, yes for all, classes.

Yours truly,
Major Taylor (colored cyclist)
Indianapolis, Ind., Jan 30

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