Long before racial tensions came to a head in the 1960s, the quest for integration was underway on Indiana University’s Bloomington campus. Important strides were made during the tenure of the university’s eleventh president, Herman B. Wells.
One of the ways black students encountered racism in Bloomington in the 1940s was in its eating establishments, many of which illegally refused them service. One undergraduate student was particularly frustrated not to be able to get a quick meal between classes. Although George Taliaferro’s life-sized photo hung inside the Book Nook on Indiana Avenue, the defensive back who had led the Hoosiers to their first Big Ten victory in 1945 had to trek all the way to the west side of town to get fed.
Although race relations on most college campuses in the 1960s were volatile, the Bloomington campus of Indiana University was relatively progressive in attempting to establish civil rights for all of its students. Despite the state’s Southern ties, and the sometime pervasiveness of the Ku Klux Klan throughout Indiana government, Bloomington provided a less hostile environment for blacks than other places in the state.
A group of black students committed to achieving racial justice through nonviolent means was already in existence at Indiana University Bloomington by the spring of 1968. But the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4 th in Memphis, Tennessee galvanized black activism on campus.