George Taliaferro in his playing days. Courtesy Photo

George Taliaferro, IU Class of 1949, has two powerful reminders of his undergraduate years: an athletic record impressive enough to make him the first African American to be drafted by an NFL team and a one-word sign that he took from a local theater and keeps with him still. It reads “Colored.”

In l945, his initial season, Taliaferro led the Hoosiers to their first Big Ten championship football title. Subsequently drafted into the military for 16 months, he returned to Bloomington to play two more seasons and win All-American honors.

But the Bloomington of his college years was not the same place his white classmates recall. African Americans couldn’t live in the dorms, frequent Nick’s English Hut, or see a movie at the Princess Theatre except on weekends.

Drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 3rd round in l949, Taliaferro instead signed with the Los Angeles Dons of the AFFC and became Rookie of the Year. He went on to play for the Baltimore Colts and Philadelphia Eagles.

Taliaferro returned to Bloomington in l972 as a professor of social work and special assistant to IU President John Ryan, developing equal opportunity policies for the university. Now retired, he is active in Bloomington’s Children’s Organ Transplant Association which sponsors the George Taliaferro Open.

At 84, still a formidable physical presence and (according to his wife) a “walking encyclopedia,” he says that the town he has called home for four decades never had far to go in battling racism; what he experienced in the ’40s “was just the way it was.” But Taliaferro still faces discrimination on occasion; though he envisions a time when this will not be so. He cherishes his charity work and enjoys Bloomington’s location and the “availability of experiences” he and his wife find here.

(Updated May 3, 2012)