The Center for Black Literature & Culture (CBLC) opened as part of Indianapolis Public Library on October 28, 2017, located in the R. B. Annis West Reading Room at the Central Branch. A five-year, $1.3 million grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc. enabled the library’s African American History Committee to develop the 3,800-square-foot CBLC. The initial Lilly grant provided for a 10,000+ item collection of books, CDs, magazines, movies, and research tools that highlight Black history and culture. When the center opened, newly purchased items constituted 20 percent of the collection. The remainder of the collection drew from the range of items already available to ensure the preservation of older representations of Black history and culture that existed in the library system.

Marble steps lead up to a grand stone entry. Above the doors is a large mural showing historical images and with the words "Center for Black Literature and Culture - R.B. Annis Reading Room"
Entrance to the Center for Black Literature & Culture, 2017 Credit: Indianapolis Public Library View Source

Since its founding, the CBLC collection has grown to include over 23,000 items. The faces of notable Black individuals such as jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery cover nine windows on one wall of the space. A photographic timeline that depicts the musical heritage of Indiana Avenue dating back to 1865 fills the opposite wall.

A West African talking drum sits in the middle or Epicenter of the CBLC. The interior walls of the drum display the names of local African Americans such as attorney Freeman Ransom, and symbols such as the Sankofa from the Akan tribe in Ghana, which represents the need to reflect on the past to build a successful future, and the ankh, an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph that represents the word “life.” Traditional drum music of Africa from Indianapolis-based Khabir’s Storytelling Drummers flows through the CBLC to expose patrons to sounds from Africa. The Akoma Ntoso (Linked Hearts) Quilting Guild of Indianapolis created Ghanian floor tiles featuring Adinkra symbols, which convey traditional wisdom, aspects of life, or the environment, that dot the CLBC.

Wood paneled room with book-filled shelves lining the walls. Four tables are situated in the middle of the room. A tunnel made of arches and wires leads to the tables.
Center for Black Literature & Culture, 2017 Credit: Indianapolis Public Library View Source

The CBLC has 5 multimedia kiosks, each covering a different topic—Indianapolis Black heritage, Black literature, Black culture, the African diaspora, and Black librarianship. Patrons can learn more about Indianapolis history and view 3D scans of Indianapolis artifacts, at the CBLC website,

Annual events at the CBLC include its Juneteenth BookFest, its anniversary celebration, and Kwanzaa. Many local author-led and community-based events take place in the space.

Revised May 2023

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