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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 five-story mural was unveiled in 2021 on the Barnes & Thornburg building, 11 S. Meridian St. Indy Arts Council chose Major Taylor as the first Bicentennial Legends portrait in partnership with the Major Taylor Coalition, a group of Central Indiana residents who are passionate about seeing Taylor honored in his hometown. 

Key funding was provided by the City of Indianapolis Bicentennial Commission, Barnes & Thornburg, Glick Philanthropies, the CIBA Foundation, and through public donations to the Major Taylor Coalition, matched by SRAM Corporation.

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

Meet the Artist

Shawn Michael Warren's triple-portrait montage 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 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,” said Warren, who is based in Chicago. “His humanity is just as significant as his accomplishments as an athlete.”

Warren earned his BFA at the American Academy of Art in Chicago and studied at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy. Indy-based painter Boxx the Artist assisted Warren, as part of a program to help artists learn to create large-scale civic murals. 

Meet the Major Taylor poet

Indy Arts Council and Indiana Humanities commissioned poet Kelsey Johnson to create "From the Earth to the Stars," inspired by the life and legacy of Marshall "Major" Taylor. 

Below: Kelsey and poet Manon Voice sat down at the Center for Black Literature & Culture to discuss their artistry and the poem.

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