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Pedaling Through History: Author Talk Explores Black Cyclists’ Legacy

Pedaling Through History: Author Talk Explores Black Cyclists' Legacy

Dr. Robert Turpin is the author of "Black Cyclists: The Race for Inclusion." He'll talk about cycling history and race relations on Saturday, June 1.

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Hannah Kiger

Your Library is hosting an author talk with Dr. Robert Turpin on Saturday, June 1 at 3 p.m. Dr. Turpin will speak about his new book, Black Cyclists: The Race for Inclusion, in the Library’s Jones Meeting Center.

The book, which was published in April 2024 by Urbana University of Illinois Press, will be for sale at Dr. Turpin’s talk. It explores the intersection of race, technology, and mobility to shed light on an overlooked chapter in cycling history.

Cycling first became a sport in the late 1870s, and from its inception Black Americans competed. Black Cyclists chronicles their stories from cycling’s earliest days through the Jim Crow era. The book highlights the contributions Black cyclists made both to the sport and to Black social mobility and the fight for equal rights.

Dr. Turpin, who is a cyclist himself and has been an avid fan for many years, noticed a distinct lack of diversity in the sport. But he became particularly interested in the intersection of cycling and race relations when he first learned about the world champion Black cyclist Marshall “Major” Taylor in graduate school.

He says, “I was curious about how we went from a time in which one of America’s first international sports superstars was a Black cyclist to the current era where Black cyclists are very underrepresented. I also wondered if there were other Black cyclists beyond ‘Major’ Taylor. Those nagging questions led me to the research that culminated with this book.”

Black Cyclists is a testament to the reality that there were many Black athletes who used the bicycle as activists fighting to dispel racist stereotypes and inequality. The book recounts the experiences of prominent cyclists Marshall “Major” Taylor and Kitty Knox. But it also shares the untold stories of discrimination faced by lesser-known figures like Melvin Dove and Hardy Jackson.

“Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois, or Sojourner Truth come to mind when we think of Black activists at the dawn of the 20th century,” Dr. Turpin says, “but Black athletes were also powerful representatives for the purposes of racial uplift.”

Dr. Turpin will delve deeper into the history of cycling and race relations in his talk at the Library.

He 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.

Check out our calendar of summer events for adults to find more upcoming opportunities. Follow Johnson City Public Library on Facebook and Instagram to receive updates about Library programs, collections, and services.

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