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Trailblazing Judge, Tireless Advocate

Viola Taliaferro sits at her office desk
Viola J. Taliaferro was a Bloomington icon and groundbreaker in the legal profession.

Viola J. Taliaferro, JD’77, renowned judge and advocate for children, died June 12, 2023.

Born in Virginia in 1928, Taliaferro grew up as one of eight children. After graduating from Virginia State College (now Virginia State University), she worked at the Tuskegee Institute and at Howard University Medical School before locating in Baltimore with her husband, George Taliaferro, BS’51.

In 1972, the Taliaferro family, including four children, moved to Bloomington, Ind. Three years later, “Vi” Taliaferro, as she was known, enrolled in IU Bloomington’s Law School (now the Maurer School of Law) at age 44.

After graduating, Taliaferro opened her own firm focusing on family law. She was appointed as magistrate judge for the Monroe Circuit Court in 1989 and then as judge of Monroe Circuit Court 7 in 1995. She was the first Black person to serve as a judge in the Monroe County Circuit Court.

In an online tribute to Taliaferro, the Law School described Taliaferro’s extraordinary judicial combination of “sternness and empathy” that “left lasting impressions on those she helped.” As a Maurer School of Law’s description of Taliaferro’s work notes, “Judge Taliaferro’s name is synonymous with her jurisprudence involving children’s rights.”

Taliaferro’s pioneering work to protect children led to numerous honors. She was inducted into the IU School of Law’s Academy of Law Alumni Fellows in 2000 and presented with IU’s Distinguished Alumni Service Award in 2007. In 2008, the Law School named its Family and Children Mediation Clinic in Taliaferro’s honor. The Indiana State Bar Association also presents the Viola J. Taliaferro Award to an individual or group for efforts on behalf of children, and the Monroe County Democratic Party presents a Judge Viola Taliaferro Award for exemplary community service.

In 2021, writer and retired professor Michael Ginsberg, PhD’93, recalled meeting Taliaferro and receiving this explanation of her judicial philosophy: “‘I considered the young people before me to be standing on a cliff. I could push them off or try to pull them back in. If I could save them, that’s what I would do.’”

Written By

IU Alumni Magazine Staff

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