The Indiana Black Expo was first held in 1970, but the person who would become most associated with it, Charles Williams, wouldn’t get involved for another decade. When he did, however, he would oversee its development into one of the city’s premier summer events.
The story began in 1980 when Williams, an aide to Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut, decided to volunteer for the once-a-year gathering, which, in its earliest days, was held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The celebration of Black culture, run by a not-for-profit and based on a similar event in Chicago, was popular but still quite limited in scope and financially modest.
With Williams on board, that soon changed. Within three years of his first volunteer stint, he was running Black Expo and would continue to do so until his death from prostate cancer in 2004. During his tenure, he established the annual Circle City Classic, an annual football game between two historically black colleges, and expanded Black Expo into a year-round endeavor that creates and supports programs ranging from health care to performing arts.
Williams even used his cancer struggle as a teaching opportunity. Since prostate cancer disproportionately affects Black men, he raised awareness about the importance of being screened by speaking about the problem and filming public-service spots.
“A lot of people think my father started Expo,” his son, Charles Williams II, told The Indianapolis Recorder. “He didn’t—he just helped take it to the next level.”