Winning the name Major

samedi 1er septembre 2018, par velovi

In The Fastest Bicycle Rider In the World, an autobiography by Marshall W. « Major » Taylor, Wormley publishing Company, Worcester, 1928, Chapitre 36, Vélocithèque personnelle

Major Taylor
Major Taylor, Portrait

Hardly had the cheers of the throng that saw me win the third of a mile championship special match race from Owen Kimble and the two-mile championship race from Kimble and Frank Kramer died away before I recalled an objection raised by a prominent Indianapolis merchant over my riding under the name of Major Taylor.

Shortly after I had won my very first race, that ten-mile event on the Indianapolis highways as a boy of thirteen, I received a letter from this merchant asking me to call around and see him. Strangely enough his name was Major Taylor. I knew Mr. Taylor by sight.

For several minutes after I called at Mr. Taylor’s office I was grilled by him. Among forty and one other things, he asked me what my christian name was, but he did not give me an opportunity to answer. This third degree business made me very nervous and I was very anxious to get out in the open air. Mr. Taylor accused me, among other things, of appropriating his name, which he led me to believe was a very serious offense. Likewise he alleged that I was receiving his mail, which charge to me was second only to one of murder. As our talk, if it could be called such, came to an end this merchant said to me : « Now I warn you, young man, never to use my name again. If you do I will send you straight to Plainfield (the location of the boys’ reformatory) until you are twenty-one just to start with, and after that I am not sure just what will happen to you. »

I began to cry. His reformatory talk struck terror into my heart. I was all fed up on that Plainfield business, for years, before I was old enough to know what it was all about. The mere mention of its name caused me to quiver. After I had promised never to use his old name again he then handed me a letter addressed to « Major Taylor. » It was mine but he had opened it. I figured he wanted to frighten me out of doing what he thought I might do about this letter, because it was what he would have done under the same circumstances.

Shortly after that interview in Mr. Taylor’s office I received a letter from a big law firm there asking me to drop in to see them at my earliest opportunity. In the meantime I had won a number of bicycle races in and about Indianapolis and my name was appearing more or less frequently in the daily papers. These lawyers accused me of using the name of Major Taylor, their client, the merchant referred to above, illegally. They asked me what my correct first name was and I told them « Marshall. » They told me to use my right name henceforth or they would land me in Michigan City (penitentiary). I promised them I would but added, « But I can’t stop all the kids in town from calling me ’Major,’ but I’ll try. »

Not long after that I left Indianapolis. The next time I returned to the city I was a big « champ, » and no longer a little « chump. » The name, Major Taylor, was appearing frequently in big headlines in the newspapers throughout the country and on billboards as well.

The day after my success on the Newby Oval track, when I won the third of a Mile Special Championship match race and the Two-mile Championship race, I received another letter. Imagine my surprise when I learned it was from Mr. Major Taylor, the local merchant. Again he asked me to call to see him, I figured that I was a big champion now and couldn’t be bluffed any more, so down I went to see him with blood in my eye. However, I found that Mr. Taylor had evidently experienced a change of heart. He told me that I had performed on the race tracks of the country in such a sportsmanlike manner that I was now free to adopt the name « Major. » He also told me that my work on the track had won the honor for me. « I want to congratulate you as champion and wish you every success, » said Mr. Taylor as he shook my hand warmly.

When I recovered from my surprise I thanked Mr. Taylor for the privilege of using his name Major, and assured the venerable gentleman that I would always do my very best to uphold with dignity and pride the proud old family name of « Major Taylor, » even though the « Major » part of it had been wished on me.

An Indianapolis paper got wind of this meeting of Major Taylor and Major Taylor and ran the following item concerning it in their next issue :

« Major Taylor and Major Taylor. Major Taylor the business man, and Major Taylor the bicycle racer are both of Indianapolis, yet they are two distinct individuals. This could be easily seen if the two were brought face to face. »The racing man is young and black, while the business man is past the racing age and white, but unfortunately, so Major Taylor the business man says, thousands of people are not aware of this fact and confuse the two. He also says that the use of his name in connection with bicycle racing is causing him no end of trouble, and that he has been obliged to explain to hundreds of his friends that he has not deserted his business and gone into the bicycle racing game.

« Major the racing man, so he asserts, is masquerading around under an assumed name, and that the racing man’s correct name is Marshall Walter Taylor. This the racing man admits but claims the right to answer to the name of Major if he likes, although he does not sign his name Major. »Major is a name in both cases and not a title. Major Taylor the racing man will be in the city next week and promises not to interfere in any way with the business pursuits of Major Taylor the business man. Major Taylor the racing man has made a great reputation this season. No one knows of Marshall Taylor on the National Circuit, but thousands are watching the clever riding of Major Taylor and the clever little colored rider is determined to stick to the name which he has made famous. Meanwhile Major Taylor the business man will continue to send out notices that he is still doing business at the same old stand.« Numerous titles were hung on me by the sports writers of the country when I was in my heyday. Some of them referred to me as the »Black Zimmerman,« »the Black Streak,« »the Ebony Streak,« and the »Black Cyclone.« However, I believe the most popular one was »the Worcester Whirlwind.« Some of the riders also had a few choice »pet" names for me occasionally when I flew over the tape ahead of them. These outbursts, of course, were true indications of poor sportsmanship and also showed what hard losers they were.

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