(Jan. 11, 1948-July 12, 2004). Born in Indianapolis, Charles Williams attended Crispus Attucks High School and graduated from Hirsch High School in Chicago, Illinois. He received a bachelor’s degree from the Martin Center College of Religion and received honorary doctorates from the CHRISTIAN THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY and MARTIN UNIVERSITY, both located in Indianapolis.

He received a Navy commendation certificate in 1965 and was honorably discharged in 1968 from his duty in Vietnam. Williams returned to his birthplace after military service and served as special assistant to Mayor william h. hudnut iii. This opportunity opened the path for Williams to strengthen the African American community by introducing small minority business owners to leaders in major corporations.

Williams pushed for ways to use his position in the city government to benefit African Americans. It was Williams who created the first city-wide National Black History Month celebration in Indianapolis after President Gerald Ford enacted February as National Black History Month in 1976. He chaired the PUSH for Excellence month (an initiative led nationally by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson to reform inner-city schools) and promoted the National Association For The Advancement Of Colored People (NAACP) Convention.

Two men look at an award together.
Indiana Black Expo President Charles Williams (left) honors his predecessor, William (Bill) Crawford, for his services, 1981 Credit: Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

In 1983, Williams resigned as special assistant to Mayor Hudnut to become the first paid president of Black Expo. He helped the group emerge from a $160,000 deficit and grew the single-day annual event at the Indiana State Fairgrounds to an organization that promoted year-round education, opportunity, and peace among people of all races.

During Williams’ tenure as president of Indiana Black Expo (IBE), he founded the Circle City Classic football game. The annual event brings to Indianapolis historically Black colleges to play in what has become the second-largest Black college football classic in the nation. Since its inception, the event has raised nearly $1 million for college scholarships for needy recipients.

The scope of Williams’ reach extended beyond his work with IBE. Later, in 1987, Williams became an ordained Baptist minister. He spent time as an associate pastor of St. John’S Missionary Baptist Church. He also cofounded a group working to establish the Museum of African American History at White River State Park.

Williams worked with the Indiana Sports Corporation, the Downtown Promotion Council, the Indiana Convention and Visitors Association (visit indy), the Indiana Christian Leadership Conference, the White River State Park Development Commission, the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, the Black College Hall of Fame, and the Pacers Foundation.

Williams chronicled his two-year battle with prostate cancer in his book, That Black Men Might Live.  The Marion County Public Health Department uses the Rev. Charles Williams prostate mobile unit to educate and examine men to detect the cancer early.

Williams honors included the Sagamore of the Wabash Award, the Distinguished Service Award, the Living Legends in Black Award, and the Congressional Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 2015, Indy Parks led the effort to establish the Rev. Charles R. Williams Park on a plot of land near Fall Creek Parkway. Slated to include a playground, parking lot, performance shelter, and a trail connected to the Monon Trail and the Fall Creek Greenway, the plot of land lays vacant in 2020, with progress stalled by the pandemic. 

Revised March 2021

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