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Before Jackie Robinson, cyclist was black sports star

Major Taylor, an outstanding bicycle racer of the early 20th century whose first name sounds like a military rank, but wasn't, has gradually emerged from virtual obscurity. A velodrome is named for him in Indianapolis, a new book about him ("Major: A Black Athlete, a White Era and the Fight to Be the World's Fastest Human Being") was published this year, and in May, the city of Worcester, Mass., unveiled a statue of the "Worcester Whirlwind" in the Worcester Public Library. Taylor was just one of a number of black athletes who came long before Jackie Robinson's historic, 1947 barrier-breaking entry into Major League Baseball. Other superlative African-American athletes, grouped by sport, from the pre-1947 era:

  • Football: Paul Robeson, Marion Motley, Bill Willis, Fritz Pollard, William Henry Lewis
  • Boxing: Jack Johnson , Joe Louis
  • Baseball: Moses Fleetwood, Walker "Cool Papa" Bell, Josh Gibson, Leroy "Satchel" Paige
  • Track and field: Jesse Owens
  • Tennis: Ora Washington
  • Basketball: Pop Gates
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