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New documentary tells the story of ‘the fastest man in the world’


Major Taylor: Champion of the Race Obit


‘Major Taylor: Champion of the Race’ premieres Monday, February 26 at 8 p.m. on WTIU

Bloomington, Ind., January 31, 2024 — A new documentary from WTIU Public Television explores the life and legacy of speed cycling champion, civil rights activist, and Hoosier hero Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor. Major Taylor: Champion of the Race premieres Monday, February 26 at 8 p.m. on WTIU.


Born in Indianapolis in 1878, Taylor was the world’s first Black sports superstar by the turn of the 20th century. Called “the fastest man in the world” by reporters, Taylor’s talent in cycling—the most popular and lucrative sport of the era—was celebrated by leading publications across the globe and by notable figures such as Booker T. Washington and Theodore Roosevelt.


On the track, Taylor captured more than 20 world records during his career. Off the track, he was an early civil rights pioneer who fought for greater social opportunities for African Americans in the heart of Jim Crow America.


Major Taylor: Champion of the Race is narrated by acclaimed mezzo-soprano opera singer Marietta Simpson, with Grammy-winning jazz musician Branford Marsalis reading passages from Major Taylor’s autobiography. Original music is composed and performed by Emmy-winning musical director Tyron Cooper.


The documentary also includes interviews with ESPN’s Kevin Blackistone; Michael Kranish, a Washington Post writer and Taylor biographer; Richard Lapchick, president of the Institute of Sport and Social Justice; Illinois Congressman Jonathan Jackson (son of civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson); three-time Olympic medalist Edwin Moses; ATP tennis star James Blake; Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member Ann Meyers Drysdale; Bicycle Hall of Fame member and historian John Howard; plus many other insights from historians, archivists, social rights advocates, and Taylor family members.


Watch a trailer and learn more about Major Taylor: Champion of the Race at wtiu.org/majortaylor. Following the broadcast premiere on WTIU, the program will be available to stream on this website and through the PBS app starting February 27.


Major Taylor: Champion of the Race is part of WTIU’s Black History Month programming lineup, which features a new two-part docuseries from PBS, Gospel hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (February 12 and 13 at 9 p.m.); a documentary on the preservation of a historic Black landmark in Indiana, Reviving the West Baden Colored Church: A Labor of Love (February 25 at 5 p.m. and February 29 at 8 p.m.); and several other PBS and WTIU shows. The complete Black History Month program schedule is available at wtiu.org/blog.


Major funding for Major Taylor: Champion of the Race is made possible by the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation with additional funding by the IU Student Foundation and support from the Al Cobine Recognition Endowment Fund, Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations, and the WFIU/WTIU Documentary Programs Fund.


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