Black History Facts #9: John Baxter Taylor

Black History Facts #9: John Baxter Taylor

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Meet the Running Man: John Baxter Taylor

Born in 1882 in Washington DC to former slaves who settled in Philly. John Taylor had a need for speed as he was the fastest high school quarter-miler in the country in high school. As a freshman in college, he became champion in the quarter mile and beat his personal best in 1907. He transferred to and graduated from University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1908, and was a member of Sigma Pi Phi, the first black fraternity.

What made Taylor unique was his stride which measured 8 feet 6 inches, the longest of any runner yet known at that time. He was indisputably the best quarter-miler in the college world.He got his first opportunity to showcase his talent in the 1908 Summer Olympics winning both heats in record time. However, he did not get to race in the final due to controversy around his fellow teammate being disqualified for obstructing British runner Wyndham Halswele.

In protest at Carpenter's disqualification, Taylor and fellow American William Robbins refused to compete in the second final. Wyndham Halswelle ran the second final alone, with a time of 50 seconds, and was awarded the gold medal in the only walkover in Olympic history - not sure if that was the best way to protest, I’m pretty sure Taylor would have won the Gold!

However, Taylor got his redemption as he lead the American team to Gold for the 1600 meter (one mile) relay. Taylor and his teammates Nathaniel John Cartmell, Melvin Sheppard, and William F. Hamilton set a world record in this race. With that, he became the first African-American to win an Olympic Gold Medal. Unfortunately, Taylor had only a few months in which to enjoy his successes as a veterinary student and as an Olympian. He died of typhoid pneumonia on December 2, 1908. Thousands of his Penn teammates, alumni, and students gathered for the funeral at the Taylor family home in West Philadelphia! Shoutouts to the young man with a heart of GOLD…John Baxter Taylor!

Happy Black History Month ✊🏿

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