It’s a well-known fact that Black people have dominated various sports arenas in the U.S. since the middle of the 20th century. From boxing to baseball to football, track and basketball, the Black influence has been wide and deep. But what many people don’t realize is that there were dominant Black athletes or a large Black presence in other sports earlier in the 20th century — facts that are no longer widely known in American society.
‘The Black Cyclone’ and Cycling
At the dawn of the 20th century, cycling was the most popular sport in both America and Europe, with tens of thousands of spectators drawn to arenas and velodromes to see highly dangerous and even deadly affairs that bore little semblance to bicycle racing today. Marshall W. Taylor, one of the first superstars to emerge from this curious and sordid world, was just a teenager when he turned professional and began winning races on the world stage. President Theodore Roosevelt became one of his greatest admirers. Nicknamed “the Black Cyclone,” he would burst to fame as the world champion almost a decade before African-American heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson won his world title. And as with Johnson, Taylor’s crossing of the color line was not without complication, especially in the United States, where he often had no choice but to ride ahead of his white competitors to avoid being pulled or jostled from his bicycle at high speeds.