Days before I met George Taliaferro in 2007, I was scouring the IU Archives when I discovered a correspondence.
Former president of the IU board of trustees Judge Ora L. Wildermuth wrote to IU comptroller Ward G. Biddle, “I am and shall always remain absolutely and utterly opposed to social intermingling of the colored race with the white. I belong to the white race and shall remain loyal to it. It always has been the dominant and leading race.”
Was this the same Ora L. Wildermuth the Intramural Center was named after?
I was not familiar with Wildermuth until then, but Taliaferro was. In the summer of 1944, before his senior season at Theodore Roosevelt High School, Wildermuth had employed Taliaferro to tend to the chores around the judge’s house.
“You would have thought that he was my father,” Taliaferro described Wildermuth to me. I slid the correspondences across the table to Taliaferro. Minutes passed as his eyes darted back and forth.
“So few of them succeed,” Wildermuth wrote to IU President Herman B Wells, “and the average of the race as to intelligence, economic status and industry is so far below the white average that it seems to me futile to build up hope for a great future.”
I can still hear the silence in that room.
What followed was a thunderous voice that surprised me. “If I had known at that time how Judge Wildermuth felt, I would have never come to Indiana University,” Taliaferro admitted.
Despite his toughness, this revealed the true strength of Taliaferro. Moments after reading comments that betrayed a life’s worth of memories about a man who watched over him as a father figure, Taliaferro still had the poise and respect to call him “judge”.
Is there a more deserving IU alumnus to replace Wildermuth’s name?
Name the building for the man who lived a life of courage, dignity and resolve. Name the building for the man who helped integrate IU, in place of the man who for so long had segregated it.
“I am opposed to any other race attempting to swallow up the white race,” Wildermuth continued to Biddle. “If a person has as much as one-sixteenth colored blood in him, even though the other fifteen-sixteenth colored blood may be pure white, yet he is still colored.”
The Ora L. Wildermuth Intramural Center will no longer be a sign on campus. His words colored his character. George Taliaferro’s name is worthy of a sign. His life stood for character.
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