History lessons: A conversation with Marty Blount

Martin Blount is a founding member and president of one of Los Angeles’s largest and most influential black cycling clubs, Major Taylor Cycling Club of Los Angeles. Named after the greatest cyclist of all time, African-American Marshall “Major” Taylor, the club has its roots in a much older organization, Major Motion. I spoke with Marty about the history of both clubs, and he generously shared his detailed knowledge about cycling in Los Angeles as well as race issues that affect riders of color and their communities.

Seth Davidson: What is Major Motion?

Marty Blount: Major Motion is a bicycle club started 1975 primarily to be a social outlet for blacks and named in honor of Marshall “Major” Taylor. It was one of the first bike clubs in the country named in honor of Major Taylor and was designed for non-cyclists. Obviously there were some really talented cyclists involved but the goal was to get people who had never ridden or who hadn’t ridden for a long time, for fellowship and getting involved in the cycling life. Judging from the results it was pretty successful.

Seth Davidson: What was the appeal of the club?

Marty Blount: I think it was a combination things including “Let’s be physically fit.” This was in the mid 70s and we were just coming out of the the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Civil Rights, Act, the assassination of MLK and RLK, and there was a sense of urgency. The people before us had done these things and paid the price and there was a feeling of “What can we do?” It was a precursor of “think globally, act locally.” We can have a place for black people to ride bikes and do things that black people supposedly don’t do, like swimming/skiing, that’s patently false of course, blacks do all those things, but this was a way we could be seen, to wear the clothes and have the equipment and be seen.

Seth Davidson: What’s behind this idea that black people don’t ride bikes?

Marty Blount: Well, what’s behind the idea that black people don’t play tennis, play golf, that all black people do is play basketball and baseball? Part of it is those other sports require specialized equipment and specialized opportunities to participate in. Blacks were not marketed to in those so-called white sports in the black community. Whether or not it might have been too expensive, who can say that? Blacks have been doing well in this country for a long time. Blacks don’t all live in slums or on public assistance but those sports never made any specific effort to market in the black communities even thought there was the occasional high profile black participant, golfers like Charlie Sifford, tennis stars like Arthur Ashe. They were the rarity and it never seemed to motivate the industry to want to reach out to this demographic. Coupled with the fact that black people, and I’ve experienced this, some of the “we don’t do this” came from us as well. We were doing well in school and in the professions and easily played affordable sports, so that may have contributed to it as well.

Seth Davidson: What do you think has changed?

Marty Blount: It’s easy to point to some more recent trailblazers and outspoken athletes. There was a movement in pro sports that blacks are known to play, where blacks said we want more of the pie that an equally talented white player gets, the same number of years on the contract and by the way you don’t own me, or my skills. I ought to be able to sell my skills to whoever I want to, highest bidder or someone whose philosophy I like. Curt Flood and the free agency battles with black players being blackballed and blacklisted because they were bucking the system. And now we have free agency in all sports thanks to those people making the sacrifice, and like whittling away at a piece of wood something starts to take shape. You may not know what the final shape was going to be, but you know it was coming. Who knows exactly how they formed Major Motion or how they met each other? For a while they were known as “the black guys that ride up and down Crenshaw” because they’d start and finish their rides at Leimert Park. How did they know about Major Taylor in the 70s? His name was in no book I ever read. I never heard of him when people talked about famous black people. These were special people at a special time. They were inspired by the actions of other people whether they knew about Curt Flood and free agency they were aware of the feeling that if we’re going to do something, then WE are going to have to do it. If we want an improvement we’re going to have to cause it to happen. We’re going to have to do it ourselves, no one will do it for us. So from humble beginnings at a fertile time for blacks in America, wanting to do something for ourselves, not be told what to do, yeah, there was a feeling that you can ride a bike and be damned good at it and to hell with anyone who doesn’t want you on their street. They rode everywhere, to Santa Anita which was lily white, to the South Bay when it was lily white. Did the cycling community care for them? Not very much. How do I know? Because in the early 80s I joined South Bay Wheelmen and we didn’t ride into LA very much but every once in a while we’d touch on the periphery of LA.

Seth Davidson: How did you get into cycling?

Marty Blount: I was working for Magnavox in Torrance, I needed to be close to my job and moved out there, and the guy across the hall at the office had a bike and wore the funny pants and we became friends and he showed me what to do with the Peugeot I bought at a garage sale. I ended up riding with SBW and then joining. So when I did that I got stronger and I said, “Hey, I can go visit friends and my mom in LA,” and the SBW guys said, “If you go down there don’t hook up with the riders down there, they don’t ride like we do, they don’t ride correctly.” You know, “they.” I rode all over LA, I’d leave the South Bay at 7:00 AM, go all the way to La Brea, over to friends in Olympic, and then down to the beach and get home at dark. And I never once bumped into anyone from Major Motion. I wonder what things would be like if I had.

Seth Davidson: When did you join Major Motion?

Marty Blount: About 2010.

Seth Davidson: What was the motivation?

Marty Blount: I relocated to Marietta, GA but it was so inhospitable to cyclists and I had three kids then that I stopped riding. Then we moved to Ft. Worth, Texas, and were living in a suburb, and after a few years the Rails to Trails Conservancy converted a rail trail into the Silver Comet bike trail, named after the train line. The trailhead was half a mile from where we lived. We’d roll up and down the trail with the kids. After Texas, we moved back to LA in 2003 or 2004 and I was working for the same company but in Palmdale, and went for a checkup in 2008 and the doctor said you’re in great shape except you have diabetes, and it’s not life-threatening but it isn’t good. “You need to take drastic action,” he said. Because of that I was looking for resources and found the American Diabetes Association, and they recommended cycling and Tour de Cure. I’d tried running, and Seth, I’m not a runner! I ran in high school but after that, Happy Days to my running career. I did Tour de Cure, dug out my old bike from storage and had to scrounge for clothes, had warm-up pants and bought a couple of second-hand jerseys, you know I come from when jerseys were wool and the shoe soles were wood and you nailed the cleats onto the bottom of the shoe–and you’d better get it right the first time! And leather chamois, of course … now everything was carbon fiber, helmets were different, clothes different. I had tennis shoes, and started riding with whomever I could find. I happened to start getting in shape and thought I could do the Tour de Cure, so I did, and a friend of mind said, “There’s this black club but we gotta get in shape before we ride with them,” the club was Crankin’ Time, they were a spinoff from Major Motion. At that time Major Motion was strictly a racing club. Virgil Ford was racing, Mike Higgins, and several others. We joined Crankin’ Time and were going great, and I tried to get the club to do the Tour de Cure and two guys supported me, and then I started talking with Kevin Evans of Major Motion, and the next year I was stronger and went back to Kevin to see if he had time and interest to do the Tour de Cure, and he said, “Sure, but will you help me with a vision? We got it made on the West Side, in Inglewood, but I grew up in Compton and there’s nothing out there. No awareness, nowhere to shop, no bike routes, lots of traffic and commerce, I want to go there and see if people can see us and get involved just like the Major Motion of the 70s.” That is when we formed Major Motion Recreational Cycling Club with Virgil Ford’s blessing, who allowed us to wear their black training kit. We wore that and that is when I became a member of Major Motion. It was not the original Major Motion club, but it was tied to the original intent of Major Motion, which was recreational. My involvement in the recreational cycling club me in the lineage of those first guys and I had no problem saying thank you and I’m carrying on. The original Major Motion’s vision was not racing, it was social. Be as strong as you can be, we’ll help you race if you want to, but we want brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers, riding bikes, being seen on bikes and changing lives. So that was the Major Motion Recreational Cycling Club.

Seth Davidson: Then what happened to become Major Taylor Cycling Club?

Marty Blount: Our group worked. Too well! It worked so well picking up non-cyclists and turning them into riders; people saying, “I haven’t played sports since junior high,” and a few years after joining they were doing triathlons. What we were doing got back to the riders from my former club Crankin’ Time, that our training was different, it was racing prep because of Kevin’s background, he knew how to break you down and build you back up. We did a great job with a bunch of really good people, we respected our colors when we wore them, we watched out for each other, but were outstripping our mates from Crankin’ Time with the consequence that as we got better our friends were like, “What are you eating?” so they began gravitating to Major Motion, and it damaged Crankin’ Time for which I’m regretful. The leader of Crankin’ Time is a super good guy with a long history in the sport and making it accessible to people in the city. He had a family, a job, it was just tough, there were so many of us doing independent things, more training more often than with Crankin’ Time so people gravitated to Major Motion. They’re still around and doing great, they’re a sag company par excellence. Thomas Ward runs Crankin’ Time Sag, has three vans each with 15-bike racks. I happened to see him today and he was having lunch at The Kettle. Eventually our recreational club separated from Major Motion and became Major Taylor Cycling Club of Los Angeles; we’re a 501(c)3 corporation and we incorporated because we believe it lets us do more in our communities.

Seth Davidson: Do you think more black riders ride in different communities now?

Marty Blount: No doubt, but we can’t take credit for it. We can’t forget the huge impact of the fixie crew, the young crew, for attracting a lot of riders in urbanized areas, black and brown kids primarily, getting them into the sport, they are young and aggressive and blessed to have some really good organizers like Don Ward a/k/a Roadblock and the Wolfpack Hustle. Those folks helped others recognize the fixie riders had clout, and they became known as a political force to make life better for cyclists, which they did. They cultivated road cyclists and some roadies started riding fixies. What we’re seeing now are fixie-type cyclists, in their 20s and 30s, on road bikes now. Where do they live? The Valley, the South Bay, the Inland Empire. We had guys on the ride today, a 15-year-old and his dad, from the Inland Empire. And all of a sudden we’re getting marketed to. Rahsaan is doing commercials during the Olympics. Legion is getting sponsored by Red Bull, these are guys from 39th and Western in LA.

Seth Davidson: Can you tell me about race relations in cycling in LA?

Marty Blount: I think there is a lot of resentment, I think some white people may be perceived as stand-offish when they just don’t know how to not say the wrong thing. And there’s a lot of that, in its purest sense there’s nothing wrong with being politically correct, which means reaching a deal through conversation, and being able to go through it in a friendly, productive way. On the other hand there have been occasions when I remember Major Motion being criticized for riding all over the road and riding like a herd of cats, “They just want to ride fast and don’t follow the rule.” It’s the “they,” I’ve seen that creeping in. I didn’t expect it here in LA, but yet I’ve seen it and heard stories about it. And then we went back to Maryland and stayed in a very white neighborhood, Trump signs everywhere, and couldn’t have been treated more nicely and spoken to eye-to-eye, people happy to have us in the bike shop, give us a tour of the shop, so I don’t think it’s universal, just some kind of weird thing here that’s a byproduct of our rich opportunity to be here. I still get that feeling. We were riding through Manhattan Beach, a kid was crossing the street with his surfboard, most of the riders were black but we had a couple of white women with us and as they passed as he was crossing the street he looked at the women and he said, “Wow, what a fucking shame.” We’ve had the n-word thrown at us on PCH at Pepperdine while we were regrouping after the climb and it got hurled by a passing car. The cars never stop, they never do, and we don’t want them to! But it goes the other way, too. Yesterday riding through Rolling Hills we’d come off the golf course, came down and made a right on PV, I was in the back and I noticed a Tesla deliberately slowing down and I thought, “Oh, god, we’re gonna get lectured,” and she rolled her window down and said, “I’m for Major Taylor!” and I got it on video. Just a little thing like that I couldn’t wait to get up to my buddies and tell them what had happened.

Seth Davidson: How do we get more people involved in cycling?

Marty Blount: Is what you’re describing uncommon in other parts of the world? What’s wrong with us in this country? We have no infrastructure we have a crazy car culture that refuses to share and then in our community few shops that you can count on to do the work well. That’s life and death on a bike. We do have people who open up a garage and make bikes available, not recreationally, but essentially, to get to work, we’ve seen people people riding a 11:00 PM without a light getting hit by a car. Because they were coming home from work at the restaurant and couldn’t afford a light. That mentality stands in the way of so much stuff. Covid has forced a restructuring of the transportation quarters. The pandemic has created the dreaded lane diet, not to save a life but hell yes to save our economy. In Redondo there’s now one car lane where there used to be two, and that former car lane is a bike lane. But that’s a privileged community. In urbanized areas like DTLA and areas around it, it took people like John Jones and Don Ward, Carlos Morales of East Side Bicycles, who lobbied, who found a sympathetic ear on city council, who got with LAPD and found a couple of advocates and were able to make street-by-street, block-by-block changes. They got the bike paths but the city painted them with slippery green paint and then the police park in them. Here’s an irony: There’s a sign saying “Don’t park in the bike lane” and the sign is … in the bike lane! It’s infrastructure but under that word is the society, and the politics of my car, my space, the bike is a toy. But it has worked in other places. Long Beach has done a really nice job. Bike lights, bike signals, Santa Monica is starting to do things.

Seth Davidson: How has George Floyd affected cycling in LA?

Marty Blount: I mentioned the diverse fixie bike crew, they don’t ride by the rules, don’t wear lycra or helmets, those guys are cyclists just not the same kind I am. I went on a George Floyd Ride for Justice and was impressed with the number of non-minority men and women who showed up. But completely outnumbered by the kids on fixies. They were everywhere. We have a moment to come together. I feared that once on the road during that ride the road bike snobbery would come out and the “we own the streets” ethos of the fixes would come out but it didn’t happen. We shared the road beautifully. All I had to do was ride in a straight line at a steady pace and everything worked out peachy keen. Next thing you know some kid was asking me about my bike and I was asking him about his. Road riders were chill. We had a blast. I don’t know if there was a sustained benefit to the situation but I’ve been on a couple of other community rides that got empowerment to do these rides because of the activity around George Floyd’s murder. We went from Westchester Park to Polliwog Park but we were flying down Pershing, and having a great time and we continued that all the way through Polliwog Park and I pointed out Bruce’s Beach to the riders. These are people on bikes for a common good who have a lot of interest in road bikes. We have people riding with us on road bikes who used to be fixie riders but they like how we do things nd how we look and the long rides, and plus they get to average 15 mph for 80 miles and climb a mountain in the process! That’s part of the effect of people coming together for George Floyd and other injustices and tragedies.

Seth Davidson: What is Major Taylor Cycling Club’s relationship to Black History Month?

Marty Blount: We always have participated in the black history parade on Crenshaw. Some organizations started a national Major Taylor birthday ride in November and we look at that as a bit of Black History Month in November. We ride through areas where people of color live and prompt them to ask us questions. You can tell when someone doesn’t know when they ask us “What is a Major Taylor?” Not “Who.” Or “Are you in the motion picture business?” With Major Taylor Cycling Club of Los Angeles we’re looking for meaningful ways to be present with any who want to be with us during this month. Our status as a 501(c)3 puts us in the game so we have a different opportunity. Some of the people approaching us or who want us present we feel a new power and opportunity for change and influence. We would love to be a conduit for money to flow into the community, not so that we can fly our members to the East Coast for a summit, we want to change the model of “Everybody go to Target and buy some things for our schools” to being able to give them classes or schools each a check for $5,000 for them to go buy the things they need for their school. We know it’s about the money.

Seth Davidson:  What’s your personal story?

Marty Blount: If you cut me open and count my rings you’d see there is a lot of knowledge that has been passed on to me. Ethnically I’m Creole. We go back to the Louisiana Creole communities of the early 1700s. Some of our progenitors were both slaves and slave owners on my mother’s side. On my father’s side there were both slaves, revolutionaries, and politicians in north-central Louisiana. On my mother’s side our family traces itself to a black slave woman whose parents were from West Africa who married legally in Natchitoches. She was called Kwan-Kwan, which means ‘second daughter’ in Senegalese, it was likely a nickname. She became the lover of a French entrepreneur named Natoyer; they ended up living on a tributary of the Red River, the Cane River, and had ten mixed-race children. They were all slaves including her and the children. After this the Catholic Church made Metoyer find a white wife so there was an all-white Metoyer family and a mixed-race Metoyer family, but later he manumitted her and her two oldest sons and gave her property. This was near the Melrose Plantation. It became a thriving place and as she was able to buy her children’s freedom, she did. She hired people as indentured servants and had black slaves. They built the first church built by free people of color, St. Augustine Catholic Church on the Cane River. Dad’s grandmother was a slave. My dad was light-skinned and my great-grandfather fought for non-whites. There were confrontations between armed blacks and whites. At one point they came to take him and his wife said he was “Down by the river.” The whites knew this meant that he had gathered with other armed blacks, so they sought a truce, even though they burned his church. His political clout and savvy allowed him to get the church rebuilt, then he moved back with his wife and served in the state senate of the state of Louisiana. My mom grew up on the Cane River, and my dad lived in Galveston, went to Sam Houston College and met my mom. He had all these sensibilities of right and wrong and how wrong can really be wrong, and it bothered him, and my mother was a very sensitive woman, too. Though she had a lot of privileges as a light-skinned Creole, she was very aware of unfairness to others. My dad was in the Army Air Corps. There were many Louisiana Creoles in California who used to live in the Griffith Park area. My mom didn’t like the privileges given to light-skinned blacks, and didn’t like the way dark-skinned blacks were treated; she had grown up with lynchings, and in California in the late 40s my oldest brother was really black, he was abused everywhere. My next brother was light-skinned and never had any problems. And my third brother was also very black and had polio, and mom had these three kids, one who could go anywhere, one who couldn’t, and the other one who was sick and looked North African. And they got involved in the Civil Rights Movement, by the time I was eight I can tell you every meeting my family went to, I was raised in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, and my brother Rafael was seriously involved. I’ve been an activist and militant person ever since.

Seth Davidson: Thank you, Marty!

Marty Blount: You’re welcome.

END


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7 thoughts on “History lessons: A conversation with Marty Blount”

  1. Great interview Seth. Again. I made the mistake of reading some of the comments in an article about Giro winner Tao pledging to sponsor a rider of color on Axels team this summer. Ugh. I should know better. But your last few posts on the diversity in cycling topic… man are they on point and on time. Keep it up, and let us know when you get to the top of that hill, if that even matters, which of course it does.

  2. Notice that when the black community is allowed a new opportunity that was previously disallowed, that participation explodes.

    Back in days of slavery, slaves were astute to know the importance of education. Slave communities established their own schools, somrtimes in their churches or school houses they built. Not just for the kids, adults had an avidity for education.

    Sorry I can’t right now provide references right here on my phone. PM me for references.

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