From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Headspeth, Woody

(born: 1881  -  died: 1941) 

In 1899 Woody Headspeth was considered the "fastest colored rider in the country" except for the Major, [Marshall W. Taylor], according to "Woody Headspeth has secured..." in the column "Spokes from a wheel" in the Recorder (Indianapolis, IN), 10/21/1899, p. 2. He had raced once in Chicago at the Ravenswood track, where he came in third. He also had ridden in the bicycle races held at the Colored Fair in Lexington, KY, where he always finished first. He also rode at the Newby Oval in Indianapolis. Headspeth's fastest times in 1899 were the mile at 1.493-5 and the two mile at 3.39 flat with his teammate Jack Robinson.

The year 1899 was also when Woody Headspeth married Winnie Partee, daughter of Samuel Partee and Charity Dotson Partee, March 18 in Marion County [Indianapolis]. Woody's birth location is given as Kentucky on the marriage certificate along with the birth year 1880 as well as his father's name Frank "Hedgepath" [source: Indiana Select Marriages, 1790-1992, FHL Film Number 413541 & 499380].

In 1900, Woody Headspeth and Reese Lewis, from Tennessee, were employed as bicycle repairmen in Chicago; they roomed at the home of Frank Harris from Kentucky and Mamie Harris from Georgia [source: 1900 U.S. Federal Census]. Woody Headspeth was living in Indianapolis in 1901; he is listed on p. 503 of R. L. Polk & Co.'s Indianapolis City Directory for 1901. In 1901 in Springfield, OH, Headspeth won the six-day, 135 1/2 mile race at the Coliseum with a time just two seconds behind the world record [source: "Woody Headspeth's Victory," in the column "Sport" edited by Breakaway in the Freeman, 10/5/1901, p. 7]. He was again a champion in 1902 at Pabst Park in Milwaukee, WI [source: "Headspeth a star: colored rider wins five-mile and ten-mile motor-paced bicycle race,"Wisconsin Weekly Advocate, 9/4/1902, p. 5]. Winnie "Hedgepeth" was still living in Indianapolis in 1902, listed on p. 507 of the R. L. Polk & Co.'s Indianapolis City Directory, 1902 as living at 758 W. 13th Street. Woody Headspeth was still racing in the United States but was about to become an expatriate in Europe.

Woody Headspeth was still a young man; his birth, according to the 1900 U.S. Census, took place in March 1882 in Kentucky; but according to his U.S. Passport Application dated September 14, 1905, he was born June 14, 1881 in Indianapolis.

There is other conflicting information on other passports belonging to Headspeth. In 1905, he was already living in Paris, France when he submitted his passport application to the U.S. Embassy there. On his application, he lists bicycle rider as his occupation; Paris, France as his temporary residence; and Indianapolis as his permanent address. At the time he was requesting a passport from the U.S. Embassy for travel to Russia.

In 1908, Woody Headspeth submitted another U.S. Passport application to the American Embassy in Paris. His occupation was listed as professional cyclist and his birthdate as June 15, 1881; he was again seeking a passport to travel to Russia [application dated March 2, 1908]. And there was a fourth U.S. Passport Application dated June 22, 1921. The name on that application is spelled Woody "Hedspath," son of Frank "Hedspath" who was born in "Levenon, KY" [Lebanon, KY] and was deceased. Woody's birth date is given as June 15, 1884. According to the application, Woody Headspeth had visited the U.S. in 1904; it still stated that Paris, France at 30 rue Nollet was his temporary address with his permanent address as Indianapolis. His occupation was bicycle racing, and he intended to visit several other European countries.

According to his 1921 application, his previous passport (the third application) had been granted by the American Embassy in Berlin, Germany on September 3, 1903. The date may be a typo: Woody Headspeth had applied for an emergency passport in Berlin on September 3, 1913. According to that application, he was a "bicycle-rider" with no passport "which I have left at home." His permanent residence was listed as Indianapolis; he stated he had last left the U.S. in April 1908 and was at present temporarily sojourning in Berlin. He wanted the passport so he could travel to Russia on business. Accompanying the application was a certificate that Woody Headspeth was a professional cyclist who was a member of the National Cycling Association of the United States.

It is not known when Woody Headspeth's career as a bicyclist ended in Europe. He died in Portugal April 16, 1941 at the Hospital Curry Cabral in Lisbon [source: Report of the Death of an American Citizen, American Foreign Service, May 8, 1941, Ser. No. 1221]. He died from typhus and intestinal tuberculosis and was buried in Lisbon, Portugal in the Bemfica Cemetery on April 21, 1941 in grave #3303. His effects were to be burned on the advice of the attending physician.

Headspeth had in his possession his last American passport, No. 3419, issued in Paris, France on February 4, 1941; he was a "member of the Repatriation Group 14 from Paris [France] under Red Cross auspices. Personal effects were old, mostly in poor condition, and almost valueless. Deceased was destitute." Woody Headspeth had been rescued from France during World War II when the German Army had occupied Paris.

Relatives listed on the death report of Woody Headspeth were a daughter, Mlle. Genevieve Le Maitre Hedspath at Maria Boven, par Rostenem, Cotes-du-Nord, France; and the daughter's mother, Mlle. Rosalie Le Maitre, c/o M. Lallines, à Ker. Two telegraphs were sent with the notice of Woody Headspeth's death, one to his daughter on April 22, 1941 and one to Jim Gibson on April 19, 1941.

Additional Sources:
Zeidler Miklós, "Egy régi pálya a polgári korban – a Millenáris Sporttelep: VERSENYPÁLYA A CSÖMÖRI ÚTON," KORALL 7-8, p. 125. [Hungarian]. Woody Headspeth is referred to as the black "Lightning Man" in reference to a 1906 race he won in Hungary. - art trade on the internet [Hungarian]. Postcard with photograph of Woody Headspeth. "Woody Headspeth, African American cyclist. World Champion"

Nemzetközi kerékpár-verseny. 1906 Június. [Hungarian].

PorfelhÅ‘lovagok: a magyar kerékpározás története az elsÅ‘ világháborúig. 2012. ápr. 18. Németh Balázs [Hungarian].

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Headspeth, Woody,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 20, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-12-11 23:42:15