- Major Taylor in Australia
Jim Fitzpatrick has provided scholars in the field of sport history with a valuable resource: a narrative of perhaps the worst example of American Progressive Era racial bigotry in the global, turn-of-the-twentieth-century sport industry. While in the last twenty-five years Marshall “Major” Taylor has become a common name among sport historians, at the time of his death in 1932, the American public had forgotten his challenges and triumphs. Sport historians are probably most familiar with Andrew Ritchie’s 1988 biography, Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer, as well as with Taylor’s self-published 1928 autobiography, The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World: The Story of a Colored Boy’s Indomitable Courage and Success against Great Odds. Importantly, Fitzpatrick does not seek to re-hash or re-interpret the literature. Rather his book Major Taylor in Australia is a very important corollary to both of the above works, which do not provide significant coverage of Taylor’s 1903 and 1904 trips Down Under. Fitzpatrick provides a thoroughly researched work on this important epic in Taylor’s career. As those with even a tertiary knowledge of American sport history should know, Taylor became a dominant sprinter at the height of the Bicycle Era and Jim Crow in the 1890s. In 1899, Taylor won the world championships in the sprint in Montreal and in 1900 won his final national championship in the United States.
Having already faced seemingly insurmountable challenges and triumphed, Fitzpatrick’s work picks up in the years after Taylor’s rise to dominance. In Part 1, “The First Australian Tour,” which covers from chapters one to three, Fitzpatrick follows Taylor’s acceptance of an invitation by boxing and bicycling promoter Hugh McIntosh (of later Jack Johnson fame) to race during the Australian racing season. Taylor and his new wife sailed for several weeks to Sydney, Australia, in late 1902. Due to its geographic location and favorable climate, Australia offered cyclists the opportunity to race throughout the year. Despite the country’s formal “White Australia Policy,” Fitzpatrick details Taylor’s successful Australian tour in 1903 through Sydney, Melbourne, eventually followed by a summer tour of Europe (p. ix).
Following his 1903 Australian tour, Taylor continued to avoid racing in the United States due to Jim Crow racial barriers and set sail for Australia again in late 1903. Most of Fitzpatrick’s work is focused on this trip. This section of his work is Part 2: “Poisoned Minds,” which covers from chapter four to fourteen. For the 1904 tour, Taylor’s most vicious United States-based rivals, Floyd MacFarland and Iver Lawson, decided to come for the Australian races. It is still unclear whether Taylor knew about the new competitors before he and his wife again sailed for Australia. MacFarland was one of the top endurance talents in the world. He was also known, however, for his virulence towards other riders and promoters who did not follow his lead in regard to race fixing or promotion and on racial matters. Importantly, Fitzpatrick brings out that it was not only Taylor’s ethnicity that made him subject to MacFarland’s wrath but also his unwillingness to fix races or [End Page 345] compromise his religious values. From chapter’s nine to twelve, the author chronicles MacFarland and Lawson’s campaign against Taylor when they recruited Australian riders to ride against Taylor and placed him in pockets as well as, in Lawson’s case, crashed Taylor to the ground. After being caught trying to rough up Taylor and fixing races, the Australian racing association suspended MacFarland for two years. However, the suspensions stopped at the Australian border, and MacFarland returned to race in Australia in 1905. After the Australian association suspended MacFarland, Taylor continued touring the country until May awaiting the birth of his daughter. After he returned home from Australia, though, he did not race for another three years and suffered a nervous breakdown. He only continued racing because European promoters were suing him for...