Known for racing, astonishing museums, historic neighbors, and the Colts, Indianapolis, or Indy, has proven to be one of the best places to visit in the Midwest. The capital of the Hoosier state continues to welcome new and returning travelers who look forward to favored events and sought-after tourist attractions.
Black History and Indy
Indianapolis keeps Black history alive through facets such as the Indiana Black Expo’s annual Summer Celebration and Circle City Classic, Center for Black Literature & Culture, and murals across the city that reflect the accomplishments of African Americans.
Along with those mentioned above is the legendary building that graces the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and the historic Indiana Avenue, the Madam Walker Legacy Center. It was originally founded in 1927 and is named after the one and only Madam C.J. Walker.
The president of the Walker Legacy Center, Kristian Little Stricklen, explains, “Madam was a lover of the arts. She loved to go to the movies, and there was another white-owned theater here, Isis Theatre. They tried to charge her an additional $.10, which is what they called the Black tax. She was not having that and actually sued Isis Theatre. It was at that moment that she said, ‘I’ll build my own,’ allowing her people to have an opportunity to go to the theatre whenever they wanted.”
“She started building this building and at the same time had the vision for the theatre. While moving her manufacturing company, she opened it up to other Black businesses, so there was a hair salon, Black attorney, doctor and dentist office. So, this became an epicenter for Black businesses, which means a lot because she was a self-made entrepreneur.”
Currently, this newly renovated building host several events such as Laughing on the Ave, Jazz on the Ave, Paint and Sips, Cocktail and Soul Cinema, Faithful Friday’s featuring national gospel artist like Lamar Campbell, and literary events that bring in individuals such as the renowned Ibram X. Kendi.
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Also, there is the History and Heritage tour that works along with Freetown Village, a local Black theatre group that reenacts what the life of Madam C.J. Walker was like. Moreover, 2022 will bring about the 40th anniversary of the annual Dr. Martin Luther King program and the official grand re-opening of the Walker Legacy Center on Juneteenth, marking the 95th-anniversary celebration.
“We want to uplift Madam’s legacy and we need the support. We want you to come to the theatre, we want you to participate in our events, we want you to donate. It is a give and take. We all want to uplift and keep the legacy alive and it’s going to take all of us to do it,” says Little Stricklen.
Indianapolis’ Fast and Furious
Each May is racing season in Indianapolis at the Motor Speedway. This brings tourists from all over the country who gather and enjoy the thrill and excitement of the races, including the prominent Indy 500 as the city is known as the race capital of the world.
Unfortunately, racing has been the essence of Caucasian culture for decades, with very few African Americans breaking into professional motorsports. Rod Reid, the owner of Force Indy shares, “The very first person to break the color barrier in the famous Indianapolis 500-Mile Race was Willy T. Ribbs in 1991. It took 80 years. George Mack was the second, who did it in 2003, and we have not had a Black person run in the series since.”
However, the narrative is changing with the emergence of 21-year-old Myles Rowe, who recently won the Copper Tires USF2000 with Force Indy. “For us in the Road to Indy ladder system, USF2000, Pro 2000, and Indy Lights, we don’t know of very many Blacks to have ever competed in the system. So, for Myles Rowe to come in the series this year and become the first African American to win an Indy car sanctioned event, it is a massive achievement. We did that on August 29, 2021,” Reid proudly explains.
“Being a racing enthusiast and a team owner, my mission when I created Force Indy was to change the face of motorsports because it has been and continues to be a white male-dominated sport. I think the only way that will change is if we, African Americans, are more engaged in making that happen.”
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway events occur over two weeks, starting on Mother’s Day weekend through Memorial Day. While in the track area, visitors can learn more about the history of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
Restaurants and Nightlife
The cuisine Indianapolis offers is packed with flavor and soul. The city is the land of opportunity where Black chefs and Black-owned restaurants can thrive. Indy is home to Chef Oya, Monica Douglas, known as The Food MD, the beloved King Ribs, Cleo’s Bodega, Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings, Tea’s Me Cafes, and restaurants that offer the combination of food, wine, and live music such as Michael’s Soul Kitchen.
When thinking about excellent places to eat and enjoy wine, Kristian Little Stricklen adds, “We’ve partnered with Sip & Share Wines here at the Walker, which is Black woman-owned. The Block, owned by Terry Anthony, has great food and they have First Friday events, so it’s always a really fun time. Kountry Kitchen, you can’t come to Indianapolis without stopping by. Chef Dan has a food truck and does catering that’s amazing, and Garrett’s Barbeque, I go there quite a bit and they cater.”
Much More to See
Other things to do while visiting include touring the Indiana Museum of Art, Children’s Museum, Eiteljorg Museum, Arts Garden, Indianapolis Zoo and Holliday Park. “White River State Park down by the canal, there is really just so much to do. You can go and spend all day,” says Little Stricklen. She continues, “One of the things I tell people that they should definitely do is to take Samson Livingston’s Tour of Indiana Ave.”
American’s Crossroads, Circle City, Indy, or Railroad City, no matter how it is described, Indianapolis is an exceptional destination to visit time and time again.