IU Unveils Taliaferro Statue, Hoosiers to Wear No. 44 Helmets on Saturday Night

Indiana University dedicated the George Taliaferro Plaza on Friday outside of the North End Zone facility at Memorial Stadium. The school also announced that the Indiana football team will wear Taliaferro’s No. 44 on the left side of their helmets for Saturday night’s game against Northwestern.

The new Plaza features a bronze statute of Taliaferro, one of the greatest players in the history of the IU program, and and a civil rights trailblazer.

Taliaferro passed away on Oct. 8, 2018 at the age of 91. You can read more about him here.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie presided over the dedication of the George Taliaferro Plaza Friday afternoon, unveiling a bronze statue of Taliaferro, one of the most important and influential individuals in the history of Indiana University and IU Athletics.

McRobbie led this afternoon’s dedication ceremony, which took place on the newly-dedicated plaza which is located on the ground level of Memorial Stadium outside of the North End Zone facility. Other speakers at the event included IU Board of Trustee member Quinn Buckner, Indiana University Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Fred Glass, head football coach Tom Allen, Senior Associate Athletic Director Anthony Thompson, and senior linebacker Reakwon Jones.

As part of the ceremony and in recognition of George Taliaferrro’s special and important place in the 200-year history of Indiana University, McRobbie presented the Indiana University Bicentennial medal to the Taliaferro family. His daughters will serve as honorary IU team captains for Saturday’s game against Northwestern, and the Indiana Football team will honor Taliaferro during the game by wearing his number 44 on the left side of its football helmets.

“Throughout his life, not only did George Taliaferro excel as an athlete, but he also overcame the real-world struggles of racism and prejudice, of segregation and oppression,” McRobbie said. “And in the process, he demonstrated courage, determination and perseverance, and earned a special place in the annals of our state and its flagship public university.

“In George Taliaferro Plaza and its centerpiece statue, every visitor to Indiana Memorial Stadium will be reminded of the enormous contributions George made to IU and to this community, as an outstanding athlete, as a champion of racial equality, as a dedicated educator and administrator, as a tireless community activist, and as a friend and mentor to many.”

“It is fitting that during our Bicentennial year, we are dedicating this plaza and statue in honor of one of the most important figures in the history not only of Indiana University Athletics, but of Indiana University as a whole,” said Glass. “I am particularly grateful to President McRobbie and Trustee Buckner for their support in permanently and prominently recognizing this Hoosier pioneer at the entryway of IU Football where he will be seen every day by IU players, coaches, and recruits.”

Taliaferro, who passed away Oct. 8, 2018, at the age of 91, was a legendary Indiana University football player during the 1940s who shattered racial barriers on campus and in the sport. In doing so, he left an indelible mark on both.
The Gary, Ind., native was a three-time All-American at IU who led the Hoosiers’ unbeaten 1945 Big Ten Championship team in rushing. He’d go on to lead the program in rushing twice and passing once, and following the 1948 season he became the first African-American drafted by an NFL team when the Chicago Bears selected him in the 13th round.

Taliaferro would eventually spend seven years in the NFL, earning Pro Bowl honors three times. He totaled 2,255 rushing yards, 1,300 receiving yards, 1,633 passing yards and accounted for 37 touchdowns while playing for franchises in New York, Dallas, Baltimore and Philadelphia. He also became the only player in league history to play seven positions – running back, quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, punter, punt returner and kickoff returner.

While those feats make him one of the most accomplished players in IU and Big Ten history, his contributions extended well beyond the collegiate and professional playing fields.

During the 1940s, Taliaferro and IU President Herman B Wells played a pivotal role in desegregating the IU campus and the City of Bloomington. During the era, Taliaferro was not allowed to eat at many local restaurants. When Wells found out that Taliaferro had to return home between classes because no nearby restaurants would serve him, Wells arranged for the two to have lunch at a nearby campus establishment. Wells and Taliaferro had lunch, and IU and the Bloomington community took a giant step toward desegregation.

Taliaferro’s contributions did not end at the conclusion of his playing career. A 1951 IU graduate who later earned a Master’s Degree from Howard University, Taliaferro returned to IU in 1972 and served as special assistant to IU President John Ryan. In that role and other roles on campus during the next two decades, he was a valuable and outspoken voice on social justice issues.

Taliaferro’s lifetime of accomplishments are chronicled on the statue, which is the work of Brian Hanlon, owner of Hanlon Studios. Hanlon has produced more than 300 works in both public and private collections, including the five granite monuments commemorating IU Basketball’s five national championships that are located in Ken Nunn Champions Plaza on the south end of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

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