Among the many Indianapolis cultural districts, there sits a unique and richly historical hub of activity for African American inhabitants. Called Indiana Avenue, this stretch of land just West of downtown Indianapolis showcases the vibrant lifestyle of its residents, musically, artistically, and spiritually.
The lovely, restored houses of the west side of Indianapolis spread over several neighborhoods between the White River and the Central Canal. This bustling region also encompasses the Indiana University – Purdue University (IUPUI) campus. Beginning in the 1800’s, Indiana Avenue became a vehicle of African American heritage, a place where Indianapolis musicians, Indianapolis artists, and spiritual leaders came together to celebrate their roots. A number of legends have called this stretch of land home. Several famous jazz musicians and historical figures who have influenced the African American legacy all are connected, one way or another, to the area. Considered by some as one of the best jazz scenes in the country, Indiana Avenue has hosted a number of the greatest musicians in history, including Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald.
In addition to the impressive array of musicians with strong ties to the area, the only Indianapolis high school in the district, Crispus Attucks, educated many successful individuals who went on to become accomplished and influential leaders in Indianapolis business and politics.
Perhaps the most well-known public figure to be born and raised in the Indiana Avenue district was the country’s very first self-made millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker. The idea for the historic Madame Walker Theatre originated with Madam Walker, and after her death in 1919, her daughter completed what she had begun. After years of hard work and dedication, the Madame Walker Theater officially opened its doors in the winter of 1927. So, if you’re in the mood to soak up some Indianapolis culture, make sure to head downtown and explore the rich Indianapolis history and traditions of Indiana Avenue!