By Sampson Levingston

In a city filled with street names honoring other states, it was Indiana Avenue that ended up being home to the majority of Indy’s black population. Roughly 150 years ago, in the year 1870, one-third of the city’s African-American community lived on Indiana Avenue.

Indiana Avenue’s growth was due in part to segregation and Jim Crows laws. Black people had to establish their own communities; Indiana Avenue was filled with black owned business from New York to 16th Street. It was 1836 when Indianapolis’ oldest black church was organized. Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church sat towards the southern end of Indiana Avenue.

As the community was beginning to grow amongst the city streets of Indianapolis, another community was being established just 30 miles north in nearby Atlanta, Indiana. Last year I did a few videos highlighting the historic black rural community known as Roberts Settlement.

These communities, both rural and urban, were essential for the development of black people in the United States. White communities and neighborhoods didn’t want anything to do with African-Americans.

The Avenue’s jazz history is reflected by a sculpture located on the historic street. I had never known what this sculpture represented until I started writing this story.

As Indianapolis began to integrate, Indiana Avenue began to deteriorate. African-Americans in the city had the freedom to move and live wherever they wanted to, and many of the Avenue’s residents relocated to more suburban communities. Walker Theatre closed in 1965, and within a few decades, commercial development began to sweep through the neighborhood.

Walker Theatre has since reopened, and along Indiana Avenue you can find historical markers commemorating the great community that once thrived there.

Indiana Avenue was where the people that looked like me felt most comfortable, most at home. They established a community that was theirs, unlike any other area in the city.

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Sampson Levingston is a Blogger from Indianapolis who blogs at Are you a freelance writer or blogger? To share your story with Heartbeat Indy email