The public can see an awesome monument to one of America's best-ever cyclists this spring when Worcester, Massachusetts, unveils its statue of hometown hero Major Taylor.
Known as the “Worcester Whirlwind,” Marshall W. Taylor set a slew of world cycling records at the turn of the last century and became the first African-American athlete to achieve worldwide celebrity.
The larger than life-size statue of this larger-than-life athlete will be unveiled in front of the Worcester Public Library on May 21. Speaking will be Taylor's successor on the world cycling stage — Greg Lemond — and three time-Olympic medal winner Edwin Moses.
The completion of the monument is the culmination of nearly a decade of work by the local Major Taylor Association.
In the late 1990s local residents and cycling buffs thought Taylor should be memorialized, both for his deeds and his lifestyle. They chose a sculptor — Antonio Tobias Mendez — to create the memorial to Taylor and set about raising money to pay for it.
The group raised about $70,000 by the time the state of Massachusetts allocated $205,000 to the effort in 2006. Mendez has been working on the piece since then.
Mendez has created other monuments to historical figures, such as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in Annapolis. His work is on display at his website.
The Taylor memorial is centered around a sculpture wall 10 feet high and 12 feet across. On one side is a bronze bas-relief of Taylor leading cyclists around a velodrome attached above a description of Taylor's life story.
On the other side stands a larger than life-sized 3-dimensional statue of Taylor holding a bicycle.
Why build a statue dedicated to a cyclist who was in his hey-day 100 years ago?
Born in Indiana in 1878, Taylor grew up in a different age. He fought racism as hard as he pedaled to the front of the pack in the velodrome races in which he excelled. One reason he moved to Massachusetts was because he was banned from racing in his home state.
The association tells it succinctly:
“He met closed doors and open hostility with remarkable dignity, earning admiration not only for his athletic achievements but also for his strength of character. He was the second black world champion athlete in any sport (the first was bantamweight boxer George Dixon in 1891). Taylor held seven world records in 1898, won the world 1-mile bicycling championship in 1899, and was American sprint champion in 1900.”
The unveiling will be preceded by a 30-mile bike ride led by the Seven Hills Wheelmen and the Charles River Wheelmen's Wednesday Wheelers.
That evening, Clark University will host a panel on Race, Sports and Major Taylor's legacy. Among those presenting will be Ed Herlihy, author of “Bicycle: The History” and Andrew Ritchie, author of “Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer.”