(May 17, 1916-Nov. 7, 1995). Willard B. (Mike) Ransom was the son of  Indianapolis African American lawyer and civic leader Freeman Briley Ransom.  He spent much of his upbringing in the Indiana Avenue neighborhood now known as the Ransom Place Historic District in honor of his family. Following his graduation in 1932, Ransom first attended Talladega College where he received a bachelor’s degree in history. In 1936, he graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School.

Willard Ransom and a store associate display a Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company product, Dry Skin Bath Oil, ca. 1950s.
© Digital Image 2019 Indiana Historical Society. All Rights Reserved.

Ransom was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941. He trained to be a pilot at Edgewood Arsenal in Aberdeen, Maryland, and then was relocated to Tuskegee Airbase where he worked in the chemical warfare division. He later was deployed to the Judge Advocate General’s Office in Belgium and France.

Following his discharge from service, Ransom returned home to Indianapolis and embraced his father’s legacy as a legal and civic leader in Indianapolis. He joined the Progressive Party and became a member of the national committee, heading the Indiana delegation to its 1948 national convention. He led the reformation of Indiana’s NAACP chapter during the 1940s and served as its president five times during the late 1940s and early 1950s. He organized several local anti-segregation protests in the 1950s, including one that targeted the Indianapolis Traction Terminal Building in downtown Indianapolis. These Indianapolis-based protests took place earlier than the better-known events in the South during this era of the civil rights movement.

Ransom served as assistant manager of the Madame C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company from 1947 to 1954 and then became the general manager until 1971. Later he served as a trustee and board member of the Madame C. J. Walker Urban Life Center. During this time, he started a family with his wife, Gladys Williams, and operated a private legal practice. He represented Black members of the Indianapolis fire and police departments.

In 1970 Ransom also helped found Indiana Black Expo, serving as chairman of its finance committee, and Concerned Ministers of Indianapolis. He became the first African American board member for the Merchants National Bank and Trust Company and was a director of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. In addition, Ransom was a member of the Marion County Bar Association and the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He participated in economic development through the Midtown Economic Development and Industrial Corporation and Community Action Against Poverty. 

His contributions to civil rights were recognized in 1993 when he received the Thurgood Marshall Award. Ransom served as counsel to the Indianapolis-based law firm Bamberger and Feibleman at the time of his death.

Revised February 2021

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