Rev. Charles Williams


If there was ever a personification of the awakening of Naptown, Reverend Charles Williams would be that person. As the catalyst for recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday in Indiana and the organizer for the first Indianapolis Jazz Festival, Williams was a man committed to enhancing the cultural offerings of Indianapolis.

Williams was raised to always help others, embrace all people and give back. According to his sister, Kathy Jordan, Williams had an innate nature to help others. She recalls one of the earliest memories of her brother’s community service from a time when the milk man would deliver to homes. “Our grandfather would put money out for the milk man in a metal box by the door. Charles would take the money to buy candy for kids in the neighborhood.”

After serving in the Vietnam War, Williams chose to come home to Indianapolis. He worked with the city as a special assistant to Mayor Richard Lugar and Mayor Bill Hudnut, serving as a liaison for the black community. During his tenure, he assisted in launching the first city-wide Black History Month celebration and helped facilitate the nomination of the first black deputy mayor in the city’s history.

Williams was focused on doing what was best for the whole community, which is what drove him while serving as president of the Indiana Black Expo, Inc. (IBE) from 1983 until his death in 2004. The goal of IBE was to connect small organizations with large corporations to foster relationships and help those organizations gain exposure, while showcasing the talents and knowledge of the black community in Indianapolis.

“His vision, marketing acumen and charisma helped develop Indiana Black Expo from a small event held in Indianapolis into the largest African American educational, cultural and social event of its kind in America,” said his 100 Heroes nominator Tony Mason. Williams saw IBE as his congregation and a way to uplift and empower the community.

Williams also founded Circle City Classic®, an annual black collegiate football game that has raised more than $4.4 million for scholarships since 1983. “Both events became a source of pride, impact and opportunity not only for African Americans, but the many diverse community partners and organizations who benefited from them,” said Mason.