The untold story of the first African American gold medalist
by Daniel Haim
Muhammad Ali. Jackie Robinson. Dr. John Baxter Taylor, Jr. The first two names need no introduction. The latter, Dr. Taylor, may not have been a three-time World Heavyweight Champion or dominate in six World Series, but his accomplishments are stunning: Dr. Taylor was the first African American to win an Olympic Gold medal. Dr. Taylor is little known; his obscurity perpetuated further by the fact that the great Olympian Jesse Owens is often accredited with Dr. Taylor’s landmark Olympic achievement.
In The Olympian: An American Triumph, author Craig T. Williams reintroduces Dr. Taylor’s story from standout talent at his high school in Philadelphia to winning Olympic Gold at the 1908 games in London, some 50 years after the abolishment of slavery in the States. A work of historical fiction, Williams took what little facts remained about Dr. Taylor’s life to unearth a forgotten hero, one who left a deep footprint on the history of sports and was a key figure in fueling progress at a time of great racial divide.
“In the Progressive Era, African Americans were no longer slaves but, in many ways, they were not truly free. This circumstance provided an opportunity for African Americans to dream big and test the boundaries of what freedom meant for them,” says Williams. “Dr. Taylor was an individual who was never content to listen to others’ opinions of his abilities – not as an athlete, a student, or as a man.”
What may be even less known about Dr. Taylor is his heroics off the field, where he triumphed over obstacles of inequality as a graduate of the prestigious University of Pennsylvania. He also became a member of the Sigma Pi Phi fraternity, the first African American professional organization in the country.
“Dr. Taylor’s Olympic achievement is only the tip of the iceberg that makes him a fascinating and heroic figure,” informs Williams. “It is his ability to transcend the culture of the times in his non-athletic life, as a doctor of veterinary medicine, and the choices that he made in spite of harsh realities that make him a hero.”
Weaving a forgotten piece of U.S. history into the greater tapestry of American myth, themes in The Olympian include:
From standout student-athlete to Olympic Gold Medalist to doctor of veterinary medicine – an in-depth look at the makings of an American hero
A country in transition – after Emancipation but before the Civil Rights Movement, the Progressive Era provided an opportunity for African Americans to test the boundary of what freedom meant for them, and more specifically …
A man who did just that, who cared little for the limitations that were set for him and faced adversity head-on
“His perseverance and belief in the human spirit paved the way for future generations of heroes, and retains the power to inspire us today,” adds Williams.