Marshall "Major" Taylor was a champion American and world bicycle racer at the turn of the 20th century. Born in 1878 and raised in Indianapolis, Taylor began racing in the mid-1890s and in 1896 he broke two world track records, for paced and unpaced one-mile rides, in Indianapolis. A black man, his accomplishments offended the white community and he was banned from Indy's Capital City track. In the same year, he finished eighth in his first professional race, a six-day endurance event at Madison Square Garden in New York.
From then until his retirement in 1910, Taylor raced all over the world and held multiple world records. becoming known as the "fastest bicycle rider in the world," a phrase that would later become the tile of his self-published autobiography. Taylor retired from racing in 1910 and died in Chicago 22 years after his retirement.
During the mid-1980s, Indianapolis was becoming known as the "amateur sports capital of the world." The Indiana Sports Corporation, first of its kind in the country, won a bid to host the 1982 National Sports Festival, with a bit of a catch: the city had to provide a natatorium, a track stadium, and a velodrome for the competition. Thanks to a partnership between IndyParks and Lilly Endowment, all three were built in time for the opening events as state-of-the-art facilities which continue to be used for national and international events today.
When it came time to select a name for the velodrome, members of the Mayor's Bicycle Task Force researched a little-known figure from Indianapolis history: Marshall "Major" Taylor. Tom Healy, at the time a writer for The Indianapolis News, was able to locate Sidney Taylor Brown, Taylor's daughter. She was able to provide a first-person viewpoint to what they knew of his lifetime. Having not been born until Major Taylor was an international cycling star, she had only heard tales of his early years and upbringing in Indianapolis, and many of those tales were of racism and being banned from racing on both the Newby Oval and the Capital City velodromes at age 15.
Fred Evans, also on the Mayor's Bicycle Task Force, and Healy talked to Brown several times during the ensuing months, while taking their proposal to several different business groups in town. Finally, after meeting with then-Mayor William Hudnut and IndyParks director Art Strong, they took their case to the Parks Board, and the Major Taylor Velodrome became the first building in Indianapolis built with public money to be named after a black person. Several of Taylor's personal effects were donated to the Indiana State Museum.
Today, several organizations exist to preserve the legacy of Marshall "Major" Taylor.
Major Taylor Association, Inc.
The Major Taylor Society
The Franklin Museum (an excellent article by Susan Silverman)