THE MAJOR TAYLOR MURAL
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 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 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.
Image courtesy of La Vie Au Grand Air magazine, issue from May 11, 1907.
Shawn Michael Warren, based in Chicago, 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. 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 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.
Indy-based painter Boxx the Artist assisted Warren, as part of a program to help artists learn to create large-scale civic murals.
Read a conversation between Shawn Michael Warren and Arts Council Director of Public Art Julie Muney Moore.
Watch Shawn Michael Warren's design proposal:
The Arts Council and Indiana Humanities commissioned Kelsey Johnson to create a poem, "From the Earth to the Stars," inspired by the life and legacy of Marshall "Major" Taylor.
Below: Kelsey and renowned poet Manon Voice sat down at the Center for Black Literature & Culture to discuss their artistry and the poem.