David Leander Williams remembers Indiana Avenue when it was one of the city’s hotspots —where local African-Americans owned and operated businesses and jazz music wafted into the streets each night from inside the many jazz clubs that dotted the area.
Back then, it was the place where local black families, musicians and entrepreneurs could thrive.
Williams, who attended IPS schools through high school and grew up in Lockfield Gardens — the first public housing built in the city for Indianapolis’ black population — spent lots of time on The Avenue.
“But that was before the wrecking ball of gentrification and the (growth) and encroachment of IUPUI,” said Williams, who graduated from Crispus Attucks High School in 1964.
“We’re losing so much of our (black) history and I wanted to do something to preserve the legacy of Lockfield Gardens and Indiana Avenue.”
So, he started with what he loves: music. After writing a couple of articles in the Indiana Historical Society’s Traces magazine, he set his sights on books.
In 2014, Williams released “Indianapolis Jazz: The Masters, Legends and Legacy of Indiana Avenue.” The book is filled with historical pictures, the history of The Avenue’s vibrant jazz scene, and stories of the many musicians who got their start and garnered fame in the jazz clubs along The Avenue.
“It sold 1,000 copies in the first month,” said Williams. Now sold around the world, the book is in libraries at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and in jazz departments at universities throughout the country.
This year, Williams is back with his second ode to The Avenue’s musical contribution with “Indiana Rhythm and Blues.” It was released February 4, 2019. And he’s already completed his third book, which traces the history of blacks in Indiana beginning in the late 1800s.
Williams has always had a love for words and languages, which started while a student at Crispus Attucks. Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, his first job after graduating from Colorado State University was translating fair housing rules and regulations from English to Spanish. He also spent time in Brazil researching and writing about the slave trade.
These days, he makes a living as an author and working the occasional odd jobs.
“Writing empowers me. Like an artist who creates a beautiful picture with paint, with different colors and nuances, I paint a beautiful picture with words and images,” said Williams. “That’s my art form.”
His goal with all three books is to document the history of African-Americans, the history of Indiana Avenue, and to empower our youth.
“They have no idea of the history,” said Williams. “I wanted to empower them through education and the format I chose was to write books. … If we don’t tell our history, then who will?”