Marshall W. "Major" Taylor (1878-1932) was an African-American cyclist born in Indianapolis, Indiana. His career spanned from 1894-1909, before cars, motorcycles and airplanes, when professional cyclists were the fastest people on earth, and the most successful ones were as famous and wealthy as anyone in society.
Major Taylor's rise to fame as a professional cyclist came at a time when black people were second-class citizens, expected to know their place in society and to respect the superiority of whites, a fact that makes Taylor's success all the more remarkable. Taylor became world champion in 1899 and American sprint champion in 1899 and 1900, breaking numerous records along the way. Thousands turned out to see him race, and in 1901 Taylor embarked on a triumphant tour of Europe, where he was showered with adoration and acclaim for his accomplishments on the bike.
Most remarkably, all of these accomplishments went hand-in-hand with a struggle to be allowed to compete equally with others, fighting against the discrimination he experienced because of the color of his skin -- something that makes Major Taylor a true pioneer among black athletes in the history of American sports.
The irony of this all is that Major Taylor died in Chicago during the Great Depression, broke and forgotten, though still revered by millions in Europe because of his accomplishments on the bike. Recent interest and awareness of this man has led to a monument being erected in Taylor's adopted hometown of Worchester, Massachusetts, as well as a velodrome named in his honor in Indianapolis, Taylor's birthplace.
For more information on Major Taylor and his life, be sure to check out Andrew Ritchie's excellent biography, Major Taylor: The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World.