The Kerbers will present several readings and book signings this summer around Minnesota, including at the North Star Bicycle Festival starting on June 19. Visit majortyaloronline.com for more information.
“Major Taylor was the most extraordinary, the most versatile, the most colorful, the most popular, the champion around whom more legends have gathered than any other, and whose life story most resembles a fairytale,” according to a 1901 story in Le Vélo, a French newspaper.
From the 1880s to 1920s, bicycle racing was one of the most popular sports in the world, and Marshall W. “Major” Taylor was one of the sport’s stars. Yet, because of racial prejudice, Taylor, who was black, was repeatedly kicked out of hotels and restaurants and terrorized by threats of violence. He persevered, and in 1899 and 1900, he became the World Champion and American Sprint Champion. Many might not know his name or what he did, but a new book by Eden Prairie resident Conrad Kerber and his brother Terry has set out to change that.
“It started on July 3, 1991, when my brother Conrad was attending a Tony Robbins seminar,” says Terry, who co-wrote Major Taylor: The Inspiring Story of a Black Cyclist and the Men Who Helped Him Achieve Worldwide Fame. “There were a lot of rah-rah things going on he didn’t care for, but he wrote in his diary, ‘I want to write a meaningful book on someone historically significant few people are aware of today.’”
Browsing the web 10 years later for an antique bicycle, the Kerbers came across information on Major Taylor in Le Vélo. “This is the guy I wrote about in my diary 10 years ago,” says Conrad. “We had to write a book about him.”
The Kerbers began working on writing and publishing the book, with Conrad focusing on the writing and Terry working on research. “As avid history and cycling lovers, it was kind of a natural thing and passion to jump on this story,” Terry says.
The research started at the Indianapolis State Museum, which kept seven scrapbooks on Taylor, where the Kerbers gathered as much information as possible. “We found Taylor’s autobiography and one-third of it contained information about his experiences in Australia,” Terry says. “So we hired an Australian researcher to uncover articles for us, as well as researchers in France, Germany and Belgium.”
Within five years, the brothers had compiled articles on the most important dates and races in French, German, Italian and Flemish languages.
The Kerbers hired translators for the documents. During this process, Terry and Conrad knew they didn’t want to go to a publisher with a strict deadline. “There was no way we could have anybody dictate to us when it had to be done,” Terry says. “We knew this was going to be a massive project and wanted to get everything right, so we bought a book with more than 400 literary agents listed and started sending query letters.”
After sending out multiple queries over the course of a year, one of them made it into the right hands: John Willig expressed interest, and within three months was able to sell the story to Skyhorse Publishing.
In May 2014, Major Taylor was published. “What will jump out the most about this book is the adversity that Taylor overcame and that he never let his heart grow bitter despite all the cruelty he experienced,” Terry says. “As we say on the inside cover, ‘It’s a spell binding saga of fortitude, grace, forgiveness and a man’s unyielding will to win against the greatest of odds.’”