Taliaferro Avenue floated as new name for city street that cuts through IU campus, part of effort to remove Jordan namings

In remarks made at the start of Bloomington’s Wednesday city council meeting, president Steve Volan suggested that the city street known as Jordan Avenue be renamed as Taliaferro Avenue, or possibly Taliaferro Way.

The Jordan Avenue street sign at the intersection of 3rd Street and Jordan Avenue in Bloomington, Indiana. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

The Taliaferros, George and Viola, were a Bloomington couple who each blazed trails of their own. Viola was Monroe County’s first Black judge, serving from 1995 to 2004.  After playing his college football at Indiana University in the late 1940s, George was the first Black player to be drafted by an NFL team.

The elimination of Jordan namings from the campus landscape has recently been recommended by the university’s president, Michael McRobbie.  McRobbie is recommending that the name of the university’s seventh president, David Starr Jordan, be removed from several Bloomington campus landmarks. Jordan served as IU’s president from 1885 to 1891.

The removal of Jordan’s name is prompted by his conspicuous role the eugenics movement, the idea that society and the genetics of the population could be improved through selective breeding.

The university, of course, does not have the authority to rename a city street.

Volan said that in the wake of McRobbie’s recommendation for the IU facilities, the city council had been approached about renaming Jordan Avenue, which runs north-south through the campus.

Volan said he thinks there will be a public process to choose the eventual new name for the street, but added, “I’m certainly trying to put my thumb on the scale tonight.” Volan said, “I can think of no person or people better to represent our city and its values in this way.”

Volan said he looked forward to sponsoring legislation to rename the street, effective Oct. 8, 2023. That would mark the fifth anniversary of George Taliaferro’s death. After Viola’s passing, Volan said, the names George and Viola should be added to the street name.

In the state of Indiana, county circuit court judges run for election with partisan affiliation. Viola Taliaferro was a Democrat, like all current Bloomington city elected officials.

The city council’s Wednesday meeting fell on Oct. 7, the day before the second anniversary of George Taliaferro’s death, which also coincides with the Monroe County Democratic Party’s fall fundraising dinner. The fundraiser has been renamed this year as the Viola Taliaferro Dinner.

The renaming of the dinner was one highlight of remarks made by Monroe Democratic Party chair Jennifer Crossley at the Oct. 3 Power of the Black and Brown Vote forum, streamed live on Facebook.

Crossley announced, “The fall dinner has now officially been renamed to the Viola Taliaferro dinner. For those of you who might not know who she is…you gotta do some homework!”

Crossley said that naming the party’s fundraising dinner after Taliaferro, who was the first Black judge in Monroe County, would be the “bare minimum” to honor her. Crossley called Taliaferro a “trailblazer in her own right in the community.” Crossley added, “And to me personally, I feel like she should be on a pedestal even more and be celebrated.”

In his remarks, Volan described how former IU chancellor Herman B Wells did not believe landmarks should be named after people who were living, and that a period of five years after someone’s death should be observed before naming a building, or a street, after them. As an example, Volan gave the naming of the Herman B Wells Library, which Volan said came in 2005, after his death in 2000.

A different example, not cited by Volan, came three decades earlier, when a Bloomington street was briefly named after Wells.

In 1971, the Bloomington city council had contemplated an ordinance to rename part of 7th Street after Wells, but stopped short when Wells objected. Yet John Hooker, in his last official act as mayor, used a proclamation to name 7th Street, from College Avenue to Union Street, Herman B Wells Avenue.

When the next mayor was sworn in, that changed. Frank McCloskey’s administration decided Hooker’s proclamation was illegal, because it infringed on the authority of the city council, and reversed the decision.

A recent occasion when the mayoral administration apparently imposed a street name change, to the disgruntlement of some councilmembers, arose at the end of 2018. Bloomington’s city council was handling nuts-and-bolts changes to the traffic code on parking, and no-parking locations, and the like.

At the Dec. 19, 2018 city council meeting, an amendment likely thought to be innocuous was to replace city code mentions of the name “Trades Street” with “Maker Way.” It’s a short east-west connector from The Dimension Mill’s south plaza to North Rogers Street.

The renaming drew objections from Volan and then-councilmember Allison Chopra, based on the process, which they had thought was supposed to consist of submissions from the public, a winnowing of possibilities to four, and then a selection from the four finalists. They’d heard that Maker Way had not been among the four finalists, but that mayor John Hamilton had chosen it.

That’s not what happened, according to the city’s director of economic and sustainable development, Alex Crowley. He said that the mayor had expressed a preference, but that the board of The Dimension Mill and the mayor had made the final selection of the name together.

Crowley’s explanation came after Volan laid out why he was opposed to the name change:

I’m going to oppose this amendment simply on principle. Now let’s not be distracted by the fact that my vote for the name for the street was Streety McStreet Place. But I do know that many other people voted jokey names. And that’s not really the point. I didn’t think a jokey name was going to get approved. But again, my understanding is that there were four finalists chosen in the survey, and that the mayor unilaterally decided not to choose any of them.

Chopra said that her vote in the naming survey had been for Brad Wisler Way. Wisler was a former councilmember and a tenant at The Dimension Mill. For Chopra, the name Maker Way made her think of Maker’s Mark.

The council voted down the part of the ordinance that changed the mentions of “Trades Street” to “Maker Way.” Despite that vote, the street sign at the intersection of Rogers Street today reads “Maker Way.”

3 thoughts on “Taliaferro Avenue floated as new name for city street that cuts through IU campus, part of effort to remove Jordan namings

  1. I question the overarching habitual pattern of naming streets, rivers, buildings after individual people. What about the myriad groups of people that had lived here for a very long time? How about giving honor and recognition to the many groups of people that were forced off this land either by violence or deceit? Everything which is IU, Bloomington, Monroe County, etc… was all Indian Land. Indiana is the Land of Indians.

  2. Addendum: my comment is on the general propensity for our society to name in this manner and not in any way direct commentary on the proposed name.

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