BLOOMINGTON, Indiana – Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie announced this weekend that Memorial Stadium’s North End Zone plaza has been renamed the George Taliaferro Plaza, honoring the late Hoosier football star who shattered racial barriers on campus and in the sport and, in doing so, left an indelible mark on both. McRobbie also announced plans to erect a statue of Taliaferro in the plaza to further recognize and honor the groundbreaking individual and athlete.
McRobbie made the announcement at Saturday’s “Celebration of Life” event at the Ruth N. Halls Theatre on the IU campus, which was held to honor Taliaferro, who passed away Oct. 8, 2018, at the age of 91.
“The renamed plaza and new statue will honor George’s many contributions to Indiana University and the Bloomington community and be a fitting tribute to his enduring legacy as an exceptional athlete, trailblazer for racial equality, educator, community activist and friend and mentor to many,” McRobbie said. “They will also reflect the very best of IU athletics and serve to remind all those student-athletes and fans who visit them of what it takes, including enormous courage, determination and integrity, to be a true champion.”
“George Taliaferro is one of the most decorated and important figures in the history of Indiana University Athletics, and we are tremendously grateful to President McRobbie for his support and involvement in permanently recognizing George by naming Memorial Stadium’s North End Zone plaza in his honor,” said IU Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Fred Glass. “George was a trailblazer for African-Americans at Indiana University, in professional football and beyond, and very deserving of this honor. The George Taliaferro Plaza will serve as a permanent reminder to our players, coaches, staff and fans of the impact he made on Indiana University, the sport of football, and the individuals that he crossed paths with on a daily basis.”
A 1981 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, Taliaferro was a three-time All-American at IU who was the leading rusher on IU’s 1945 Big Ten Championship team that went 9-0-1, the only undefeated team in school history. During his four years in Bloomington he led IU in rushing twice and passing once, and after the conclusion of the 1948 season, he was selected in the 13th round of the 1949 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears, making him the first African-American drafted by an NFL team.
He went on to spend six years in the NFL, earning Pro Bowl honors three times. He totaled 2,266 rushing yards, 1,300 receiving yards, 1,633 passing yards and accounted for 37 touchdowns while playing for franchises in New York, Dallas, Baltimore and Philadelphia. In addition to becoming the first African-American drafted by an NFL team, he also became the only player in league history to play seven positions – running back, quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, punter, punt returner and kickoff returner.
Taliaferro is one of the most accomplished football players in IU and Big Ten Conference history, but his contributions extended well beyond what he achieved on the playing field. Along with former IU President Herman B Wells, Taliaferro played a pivotal role in desegregating the Indiana University campus.
During 1940s - an era when both the campus and the city of Bloomington were segregated - Talifaferro was not allowed to eat at many local restaurants. When Wells found out Taliaferro had to return home between classes to eat lunch because no nearby restaurants would serve him, Wells phoned the manager at The Gables restaurant and informed him that he and Taliaferro would be eating lunch there that day.
When the manager originally balked at the idea, Wells informed him that if that was the case, then he would make the South Indiana Avenue restaurant off limits to the entire school body. The manager relented, Wells and Taliaferro ate lunch, and IU and the Bloomington community took one giant step toward desegregation.
Taliaferro’s contributions to IU did not end at the conclusion of his playing career. A 1951 IU graduate who later earned a Master’s Degree from Howard University, Taliaferro returned to IU in 1972 to serve as special assistant to IU President John Ryan. In that role, Taliaferro continued to be an important voice and advocate for fairness, compassion and equality on the IU campus and in the community. He played a significant role in IU’s first university-wide Affirmative Action play and served as an important recruiting and counselor to minority students