When we think of legendary African American cultural hubs, what locations come to mind? Harlem in NYC, Bronzeville in Chicago, and……. Indianapolis? Yes, the capital of the Hoosier state was once a hub of jazz greats, Black-owned businesses, entertainment and civic life. Indiana Avenue it was called, was the center of social life for Black people. Denied serve at white-owned businesses, Black people migrating from the south created their own version of Broadway, anchored by the legendary Walker Building, constructed to house Madam C.J. Walker’s hair-care and cosmetics company, also housed a theatre, restaurant and office space. Indy’s Black newspaper, The Indianapolis Recorder, was also headquartered on the Avenue until the 1970s. A combination of factors, including desegregation, blight and urban renewal contributed to the eventual demise of Indiana Avenue beginning in the 1950s. Only a few of the original buildings from the Avenue’s heyday remain, including a restored Walker Theatre, which hosts concerts and performing arts.
Like most entertainment districts, Indiana Avenue contained its fair share vice, including gambling, the sex industry and bootleg liquor during prohibition. My interest in the history of gambling in Indianapolis, specifically numbers running businesses controlled by Black people, is what led me to write this post actually. There isn’t much information or research about Black involvement in the gambling business in Indy, but I’m working on a writing exercise where I will attempt to explore the rise of numbers running businesses (what we called ticket houses) and their social and political contexts. I’m going to publish a series of posts about various aspects of Indiana Avenue, and through my research I hope to gain some insight into the rise of numbers running.