In 1945, freshman running back, George Taliaferro played a huge role in leading the undefeated Indiana football team into the Big Ten championship. Four years later, he became the first Black player drafted to the NFL for the Chicago Bears. He ended up playing for the Los Angeles Dons and several other professional teams throughout his career.
After playing professional football, Taliaferro earned a master’s degree from Howard University and taught at Maryland University, according to My IU. He became a dean of students while at Morgan State University. He then returned to Indiana and was put in charge of the affirmative action plan on IU’s campus.
Taliaferro also led the Big 10 Advisory Commission where Black former athletes from all Big Ten schools engaged students on issues of diversity.
“You never heard him talk about himself in that way — as an athlete —unless you looked at his bio. You never knew this about him,” Nancy Cross-Harris, the office and programs assistant at the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center said.
Despite segregation, Taliaferro took it upon himself to break down discrimination barriers.
A Herald Times article published last month details how The Gables, which now is BuffaLouie’s, did not provide service to Black Americans. Taliaferro had to take all his meals off-campus because Black students were not allowed to live on campus.
After Taliaferro advocated for himself to eat at Gables with his teammates, former IU president Herman B Wells stepped in, the article said. He told the Gables owner that if he did not provide service to Taliaferro, he would shut down the restaurant to any students on campus.
The owner agreed and allowed Taliaferro to dine for a week at the restaurant if no one complained. The second week he could invite two friends and if no one complained, Gables would be open to all Black Americans.
According to an Indianapolis Colts article, Taliaferro played a huge role in integrating restaurants and other local businesses across Bloomington. At Buskirk-Chumley Theater, he removed the sign that read “Colored” after taking down the sign, the movie theater was never segregated again.
After his athletic career, Taliaferro was a philanthropist. He had a passion for giving to others.
“George was known for dropping stuff off, such as clothing, hygiene and food items to the Neil-Marshall Center,” Dr. Gloria Howell, the director of the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center, said. “He would say “give these things to whoever needs them.”
Mark Deal, the assistant athletic director at IU, said he played golf with Taliaferro multiple times.
“He was always in the trees looking for golf balls gathering to save them to take to the Indy public golf course for the black kids who would try to play golf and donate them,” he said.
Deal said Taliaferro will always be remembered not only for his impressive athletic career, but for his renowned efforts pushing towards the end of segregation in Bloomington. He also spoke about Gables and said Taliaferro wanted to change things after seeing a photo of him in the championship game on the wall, but still wasn’t able to dine in the restaurant.
“George was way ahead of his time,” Deal said. “George Taliaferro was not only one of the five greatest football players ever at IU but he is probably one of the 5 greatest men from IU.”
According to University Institutional Research and Reporting, in 2005, 3,832 IU students of color sought degrees. As of 2022, IU has a record enrollment, with 11,579 degree-seeking students of color.
IU Athletics is actively working towards supporting diversity in athletics. In 2020, Indiana created a logo supporting diversity, equity and inclusion that was placed on all gameday gear. IU Athletics also created ten student-athlete organizations supporting diversity, equity and inclusion.
The George Taliaferro Sports Association is one of those ten organizations, and it was created in 2018. The student-athlete group strives to bridge the gap between athletes and brings them a close-knit community on campus.
“We created the organization to give Black students and students of color who were either, interested in sport, playing a sport, or even studying a sport, an organization that they knew would support them in all their endeavors,” Ramir Williams, a graduate advisor and co-founder of the George Taliaferro Sports Association said.
“IU athletics is finding more ways to take their crowds to support this new century,” Ashton Stewart, the assistant director of marketing in the IU department of intercollegiate athletics said.
At the recent IU women's basketball game last Thursday, IU Athletics hosted a Diversity and Inclusion night that involved the African American Dance Company performing at the half time show and introduced the different culture centers on campus. It was the first time something like this had ever been done.
CORRECTION: This article has been corrected to specify Taliaferro did not play for the Chicago Bears.