Q&A with the author of BLACK CYCLISTS

Robert J. Turpin, the author of Black Cyclists: The Race for Inclusion, answers questions on his new book.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?   

After learning about the Black cyclist Marshall “Major” Taylor, who won the world championship in 1899, I became deeply interested with the question of whether he was a lone Black cyclist in the U.S. or whether the sport was much more diverse in the 1890s than it was in the early 2000s. If so, I was curious about why that happened and how it played out.   

Q: What is the most interesting discovery you made while researching and writing your book?  

The fact that there were many prominent Black cyclists in the late 1800s was interesting, but not as surprising as the discovery that nearly all met a tragic demise. That they all died young or poor was one thing but the fact that a significant percentage of them were institutionalized was more curious.  

Q: What myths do you hope your book will dispel or what do you hope your book will help readers unlearn? 

Cycling is a sport that has been seen as overwhelmingly White in the past 30 years but this book shows a few things. First, cycling has not always been so White. Second, Major Taylor was not the only Black cyclist to challenge racism at the turn of the century and sadly, he did not break the color-line, if anything, his success seemed to make segregation in the sport even stricter. 

Q: Which part of the publishing process did you find the most interesting?  

Comments from the peer reviewers.

Q: What do you like to read/watch/or listen to for fun? 

I’m currently watching the Tiger documentary on HBO and making my way through Succession. The last three authors I’ve read were Barbara Kingsolver, Charles Dickens, and Cormac McCarthy. I like to listen to minimalist composers, old punk and indie but I also enjoy hip-hop and a good pop song every once and a while.

Robert J. Turpin is an associate professor of history and the assistant director of the honors program at Lees-McRae College. He is the author of First Taste of Freedom: A Cultural History of Bicycle Marketing in the United States.

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