Bicentennial Legends: Major Taylor


In 1899, Marshall "Major" Taylor, who was born and raised in Indianapolis, became the first African American world-champion professional cyclist. He was also the U.S. sprint champion in 1899 and 1900, and became a pioneering role model for other athletes facing racial discrimination. 

The Arts Council identified Major Taylor as the first Bicentennial Legends portrait mural subject in partnership with the Major Taylor Coalition, an informal group of Central Indiana residents who are passionate about seeing Taylor honored in his hometown. 

The mural was installed in 2021 on the Barnes & Thornburg building, 11 S. Meridian St. with funding support provided by the City of Indianapolis Bicentennial Commission, Barnes & Thornburg, Glick Philanthropies, the CIBA Foundation, and public donations to the Major Taylor Coalition, matched by SRAM Corporation.

Read the full press release.

Image courtesy of La Vie Au Grand Air magazine, issue from May 11, 1907.

About The Artist

Shawn Michael Warren, who is based in Chicago, earned his BFA at the American Academy of Art in Chicago and studied at the Florence Academy of Art in Florence, Italy. He uses historic themes or narratives to communicate essential human truths, and to initiate uncomfortable conversations surrounding race, socio-political subjects, and culture. His most notable work, In a Promised Land…, brought to life the tragic history of the Greenwood district in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The district, which was known as “Black Wall Street” for its high concentration of wealthy Black Americans, was burned to the ground in the Tulsa race massacre of 1921.

Warren was one of 54 artists from 21 states who applied for the Major Taylor mural commission. His design features a triple-portrait montage that captures Taylor in three stages of his athletic career—as a youth, as an adult during his competitive peak, and upon his return to racing after a two-year hiatus.

“It was important to create some form of a narrative that not only depicts Major Taylor as a world-champion cyclist, but as a stoic, unwavering individual who faced the ugliest forms of racism,” Warren said. “It’s imperative that those who view the mural understand the difficult task Major Taylor took on to represent and win in a sport for a country that viewed him as an inferior person. The three portraits display Taylor as hopeful, courageous, and determined. His humanity is just as significant as his accomplishments as an athlete.”

Indy-based painter Boxx the Artist will assist Warren, as part of a program to help artists learn to create large-scale civic murals. In partnership with Indiana Humanities, the Arts Council will also commission an Indiana poet to reflect on Taylor’s legacy. An outdoor dedication ceremony for the new mural and poem is planned for late summer.

Meet the Major Taylor poet

The Arts Council and Indiana Humanities are proud to announce the commissioning of a poem inspired by the life and legacy of Marshall "Major" Taylor. Please join us in congratulating poet Kelsey Johnson

About Kelsey Johnson

Kelsey Johnson is an actor, writer and educator from Indianapolis, Indiana. She received her BFA in Acting from Ball State University, graduating cum laude. After graduating she continued her education as an acting apprentice in the 2016-2017 Professional Training Company (PTC) at Actors Theatre of Louisville. She currently balances her time as a teacher, professional actor and the occasional spoken word poet. She is a proud Indianapolis Shakespeare Company member and has worked for Conner Prairie Living History Museum, the Indiana Writers Center, Indy Reads bookstore (through their AmeriCorps program) and as a classroom theatre teacher.

As an actor, some of her professional acting credits include A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Indy Shakes, Helen and Mary Jane with Summit Performance Indianapolis and A Christmas Carol, #MATTER and The Many Deaths of Nathan Stubblefield with Actors Theatre of Louisville. As a writer, her poetry and other pieces have been featured in A Feminist Thread, The Wabash Review, Herstry, 805 Lit, Indy Maven and on stage at Conner Prairie Living History Museum.

From the Earth to the Stars by Kelsey Johnson

Manon Voice in Conversation with Kelsey Johnson

In anticipation of the debut of the poem From the Earth to the Stars, renowned poet Manon Voice sat down with Kelsey at the Center for Black Literature & Culture, based at Central Library. 

the bicentennial legends project

In September 2020, the Arts Council kicked off the Bicentennial Legends mural series to celebrate the City of Indianapolis' 200th birthday. Internationally recognized cyclist and racial justice advocate Marshall "Major" Taylor (1878-1932) will be honored with the first public mural in 2021 in a prominent downtown location.

The project will build on Indy's already-iconic murals of Hoosiers, which include author Kurt Vonnegut, poet Mari Evans, and former Indiana Pacer Reggie Miller. New murals will depict individuals who embody the Bicentennial Commission’s guiding principles: History, Civic Pride, Innovation, and Legacy. 

We Need Your Help! 

With support from the community, artists, and property owners, we can honor and celebrate many other Legends over the next several years.

Indianapolis Bicentennial


Each Bicentennial Legends mural is a unique private-public partnership that will involve the building owner, community partners affiliated with the Legend, the neighborhood hosting the mural, and the public. There will be opportunities to participate in public forums, volunteer, and donate to support this effort. Questions? Please contact the Arts Council’s Director of Public Art This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Thank you to our funders

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Indiana Arts Commission
Clowes Charitable Foundation