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LETTER: Reader suggests Intramural Center be named for Garrett


Two-time national champion Branch McCracken is depicted (left) alongside Bill Garrett, who became the first African-American to play Big Ten basketball in 1948. Garrett led IU in scoring and rebounding in each of his three seasons with the team and was named an All-American in his senior season. He was coached by McCracken, a former IU player himself, who led the team to two national titles while coaching the Hoosiers. Evan De Stefano

In his letter of Oct. 22 "Rename the Intramural Center after Taliaferro," Andrew Shaffer suggests the Intramural Center be renamed to honor George Taliaferro.

We disagree.

George Taliaferro figures prominently in our book "Getting Open" for he was a star athlete, a leader among black IU students in the 1940’s and a mentor to Bill Garrett. 

He was a constant source of encouragement and information during the seven years we researched and wrote the book, published in 2006. No one knew the segregation of the IU campus and Ora Wildermuth’s role in it better than George Taliaferro. He had lived it.

George Taliaferro also was an enormously admirable man: a trailblazer and star in the NFL, a social worker, a popular IU instructor, an advisor to IU presidents and a mentor of students. 

But the Intramural Center should not be renamed for him. It should be renamed for Bill Garrett. Here is why.

The Intramural Center is the “old fieldhouse.” It is where from 1948 to 1951 Bill Garrett set IU scoring and rebounding records, became an All-American and much more.

He broke the agreement that had barred blacks from Big Ten basketball and — as the only black player in the Big Ten during his IU career — he set such an strong example that there were seven African-American players on five Big Ten basketball teams the year after he graduated. The respect and popularity he held among IU students and fans helped accelerate integration of the campus during his IU years.

Great as he was, George Taliaferro does not have this historical connection with the fieldhouse. He deserves to be honored on his own: the football playing field? the IU School of Social Work? Something like that would keep clear link between the persons, the histories and the honors. 

Surely, IU can honor both Garrett and Taliaferro without having to decide between them and without “stacking” their names together out of convenience.

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