BLACK HISTORY IN INDIANAPOLIS
Remembering and Celebrating The City's Heritage
Indy's Black history is one of entrepreneurship and perseverance in times of hardship, one of creative expression, and one of fostering places of unity and forward-thinking despite adversity. From early black settlements of the 1820s, to stops in Indianapolis along the Underground Railroad, to cultural hubs that carry on the legacy today, African Americans have played an essential role in the growth of Indianapolis.
Notable Figures in Indianapolis Black History
Madam C.J. Walker in Indianapolis
At the beginning of the 20th century, when entrepreneur and icon Madam C.J. Walker was looking for a city to grow her business of specialty, hair care products for African Americans, she looked no further than the Crossroads of America and set up shop in Indianapolis. Walker’s savvy business and leadership skills earned her status as the country’s first self-made female millionaire and transformed the beauty industry forever.
Major Marshall Taylor in Indianapolis
The legacy of Indy icon Marshall "Major" Taylor, the world's first Black sports superstar, is celebrated across the Circle City. Taylor was born and raised in Indianapolis before becoming the first Black world-champion professional cyclist. Major Taylor not only had success in cycling but also paved the way for minority athletes to be vocal about both racial and social justice.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy
In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy visited what is now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, initially to campaign, however instead had to deliver the news of Dr. King’s assassination. The Landmark for Peace Memorial was dedicated by former President Bill Clinton in 1995 to honor both Dr. King and the late Mr. Kennedy for their contributions to our nation. The park was then named for the famous civil rights leader and extends over 14 acres in Center Township of Indy.
Indiana Avenue: Historically Black Neighborhood
Indiana Avenue is home to the Madam Walker Legacy Center, where Walker worked her way up to run an empire which made her one of the wealthiest, successful women in the 20th century. Beginning in 1821, Indiana Avenue was home to a popular jazz scene that lasted until the 1970s. At the height of its jazz era, “The Avenue” featured over 33 jazz clubs with headliners including Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, and more. Indiana Avenue also housed the first black-owned business in Indianapolis. In 1865, Samuel G. Smother opened a grocery store, and later in 1879 The Indianapolis Leader was the first African American-owned newspaper in Indy.
Indiana Avenue Landmarks:
19th Century: New Beginnings and Resettlements
Just 30 miles north of Indianapolis stand the remains of an African American pioneer farm settlement founded in 1835 by free blacks of mixed racial heritage who migrated from the South. The pioneers pursued economic, educational, and religious aspirations with greater freedom and fewer racial barriers, goals which were achieved through hard work and assisted by racially tolerant Quaker and Wesleyan neighbors. Today, a chapel and cemetery are the physical reminders of a once thriving community.
Established in 1897, Ransom Place is the oldest African-American neighborhood in Indianapolis. The neighborhood originally consisted of four dozen homes on six city blocks and inspired the founding of the National Association for African-American Heritage Preservation. Ransom Place was named after Freeman B. Ransom, an attorney and general manager for the Walker Manufacturing Company.
Museums and Attractions
Indianapolis offers a compelling journey through the impactful contributions of Black individuals to the city's and nation's history and culture. Immerse yourself in these exhibits and museums that weave together narratives of resilience, achievement, and the ongoing pursuit of equality.
This collection was gifted as a teaching collection to coincide with classes offered in the Art History Department. Consisting of various objects including materials made from wood, iron, ivory, clay, and brass, many pieces had ceremonial uses and relate to other activities which define the traditional, historical, and cultural aspects of West African life. Today, 32 African objects remain in Butler University’s collection.
Murals and Public Art
Explore Indy's vibrant street art scene featuring larger-than-life murals paying homage to notable historical Black figures. Wander through neighborhoods like Mass Ave and Indiana Avenue, where these striking artworks tell powerful stories of resilience and achievement.