(BLOOMINGTON) – Indiana University has renamed the North End Zone Plaza at Memorial Stadium after George Taliaferro, the late Hoosier football star who was the first African-American ever drafted by an NFL team.
IU President Michael McRobbie announced the renaming to George Taliaferro Plaza at a celebration of life Saturday to honor Taliaferro, who died Oct. 8, 2018 at the age of 91.
A 1981 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, Taliaferro was a three-time All-American and the leading rusher on the 1945 Big Ten championship team that went 9-0-1, the only undefeated team in school history.
Gregg Doyel’s 2015 column on Taliaferro’s amazing life:
When he reported to IU in 1945 he couldn’t swim in the pool, live in the dorm or eat in the cafeteria. He could attend movies, but only on weekends, and only if he sat in the balcony, away from the white people.
“I couldn’t do … anything … on … campus but attend class and play football,” he says.
George called his father in 1945 and told Robert Taliaferro he was coming home to Gary, maybe to work alongside his father in the tin mill at the US Steel Corp. A few years earlier, when George was still at Gary Roosevelt High, he told his father — a foreman at the tin mill — that he wanted to be just like him.
“Then you should cross your arms across your chest and lie down and die,” Robert told him. “Because I never had the kinds of opportunities that you are going to have.”
The Chicago Bears picked him in the 13th round of the 1949 NFL draft, but he had already agreed to play for the Los Angeles Dons. Taliaferro played from 1949-55 with franchises in both the old NFL and the All-America Football Conference.
He played seven seasons of pro football, six in the NFL with New York, Dallas, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, three times making the Pro Bowl.
He became a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Baltimore, advised prisoners adjusting to society upon their release, got his master’s in social work at Howard University, taught at Maryland, was dean of students at Morgan State, returned to Indiana as a professor and special assistant to IU president John Ryan, and helped start Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central Indiana in Bloomington.