Black Hoosiers have made an impact

A look at 10 Indiana connected celebrities who have left a mark on state history

As the nation celebrates Black History Month, it is a good time to examine the lives of 10 famous black Hoosiers:

Barbara Boyd

  • Barbara Boyd was born on April 27, 1929. She attended Indiana University and in 1969, she joined WRTV 6 News staff. This made Boyd the first black female reporter on local television news in Indiana.

Her groundbreaking piece on breast cancer really put her name out there. Boyd continued in her career earning many awards, including being named Indianapolis’ Top Ten Women for three consecutive years by the Indianapolis Star. In March of 2000, Boyd was inducted into the Indianapolis Hall of Fame.

Oatess E. Archey

  •   Oates E. Archey was born in 1937. He achieved a lot of firsts.

Archey was the first black sheriff to be elected in Indiana. He was also the first black teacher at Marion High School and the first black track coach and administrator at Ball State University.

Nothing but hard work got him where he is today. It was never easy. Archey was first declined a teaching position at Marion High School and, despite being a college graduate, he was employed as a janitor at first. When he made the decision to become a sheriff, the Ku Klux Klan denounced him. Being an African American man in Indiana during the mid 1900’s proved to be a racial struggle, but a struggle Archey iconically overcame.

Madame C.J. Walker

  • Madame C.J. Walker was born on December 23, 1867. She is definitely a name you are familiar with if you have taken any basic history class.

Walker was born on a plantation her parents had been enslaved on just years before the civil war. Growing up as a sharecropper, Walker singlehandedly turned herself into a multi-millionaire business woman. She produced her own hair scalp treatment and by 1910, had settled in Indianapolis where she built a factory, hair and manicure salon, and another school. Walker also donated $1,000 to fund the building of a “colored” YMCA in Indianapolis.

Walker is the first black American female millionaire. The Walker Theatre is located near the IUPUI campus and is dedicated to her.

Myra C. Shelby

  • Myra C. Shelby was born in 1955. She became the first woman and first African American to serve on the Indiana Supreme Court.

While on the court, Selby helped make several decisions regarding state property taxes, insurance, and tort law reform. In 1999 Selby was appointed to chair the Indiana Supreme Court Commission on Race and Gender Fairness, which is in charge of ensuring fairness and diversity in the state’s legal system.
Marshall Taylor

  • Marshall “Major” Taylor was born in Indianapolis on November 26, 1878. He received his first bike as a young child and fell in love with cycling. He was determined to become better and started performing tricks in front of a bike shop.

Encouraged by the bike shop owner, he started racing in cycling events. Taylor eventually became the first black champion in any sport in the world. Unfortunately, due to intense racism directed towards him by other cyclists, Taylor retired at the age of 32. He was the richest athlete -black or white- of his time and his legend lives on till this day. The velodrome on Cold Springs Road is named after him.

Oscar Robertson

  • Oscar Robertson was born in 1938 and grew up in a segregated housing of Indianapolis In the projects, Robertson learned about basketball and experienced racial discrimination first-hand.

Growing up playing basketball, he became one of the greats in NBA history. During his 14 year career he played for the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks. Robertson became the top-scoring guard of all time.

Nicknamed the Big O, Robertson was NBA Rookie of the Year in 1960-61, played in 12 straight NBA All-Star Games, was selected to the All-NBA First Team nine consecutive seasons, won the NBA Most Valuable Player Award in 1963-64, and helped the Milwaukee Bucks win the NBA Championship in 1971.

He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979 and named to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996-97. Robertson definitely made his mark in the NBA.

Henry J. Richardson Jr

  • Henry J Richardson Jr. was born 1902 and became Indiana’s first black Judge. He also started the NAACP in Indianapolis.

Richardson’s most lasting work would have to be his civils rights influence. Facing the same racism, Richardson made it his goal to end such profound discrimination and successfully fought many cases of integration such as the segregation in Indianapolis dormitories.

He was once offered $5,000 by the Ku Klux Klan to not speak in favor of a civil rights measure. He of course decline. Richardson’s passion as a civil rights activist earns him the recognition of being one of the most influential people of his time.

Dr. George Rawls

  • Dr. George Rawls was born in the 1900’s. Not only is it hard to become a doctor in the first place, but Rawls became Indiana’s first black surgeon. The Ku Klux Klan had such an influence back then, but that didn’t stop Rawls.

He lived history and recorded it. He famously wrote a book about being a black doctor and the patients you will work with. He wrote on the struggles black doctors faced, like the time a group of doctors were denied admission to the Marion County Hospital Society. Like many African-Americans in his time, Dr. Rawls persevered through the oppression and was a very successful surgeon, paving the way for many black surgeons to come.

Willie T. Ribbs

  • Willie T. Ribbs. Although not born in Indiana (Ribbs grew up in California) he became famous for being the first blaak rac car driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.

Ribbs’ made his first attempt at the Indianapolis 500 in 1985, which ended in controversy when during testing he topped out at 170 miles per hour while other rookie drivers were running laps above 200 miles per hour. Ribbs proceeded to withdraw from the race.

In 1990, Ribbs joined CART in a car funded in-part by comedian Bill Cosby. In 1991, he became the first African-American to qualify for the Indianapolis 500,

Michael Jackson

  • Michael Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana. But you knew this. Jackson has been a household name for years. He is known as the King of Pop.

Arguably one of the most famous Indiana celebrities, Jackson died in June of 2009 at the age of 50. He was king of the pop music world in the 1980s after bursting on to the scene at the age of 5 with his brothers, a group known as the Jackson Five. Jackson became famous worldwide in the 1980s as one of the hottest stars in the then up-and-coming music video world. His album Thriller is one of the top selling albums of all time.