Indiana Avenue39.775720, -86.166634

Mari Evans

The historic Indiana Avenue neighborhood was once the center of Black culture and entrepreneurship in Indianapolis. In her essay, Mari Evans critiques the racist practices used by developers and the city to disinvest and subsequently push out Black residents and businesses for the development of IUPUI and other projects.


Mari Evans
b. 1919 – d. 2017

Literary Inspiration

“Ethos and Creativity: The Impulse as Malleable”

Published 1989


Intersection of Indiana Avenue and Michigan Street

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“Ethos and Creativity: The Impulse as Malleable” in Where We Live: Essays about Indiana

Mari Evans

Looking back over almost four decades, everything has changed and nothing has changed. This, too, is a tale of two cities. For me,and close to 150,000 other persons of African descent living in this city, it has been—a Black experience.

Memory is capricious, eclectic. Certain names, captured moments. Today’s recall of Yesterday’s incredible tenderness, its secret pain. Today’s instant replay: Yesterday on parade, still fresh in the heart. A waft of perfume or the lingering odor of rage now decayed.

Late Sunday afternoons, the Mme. Walker tearoom stylishly packed, crisp gloves, the soft silks gleaming. The western sky awash with red-orange, vivid to pastel, stroked with delicate purples, sunset viewed with awe from a fourth floor project window.

Lockefield. Ah, yes. Lockefield . . .

For the span of my memory this has been a city of opposing wills, two faces firmly set toward different directions—one covertly determined to maintain the status quo, to continually block any access to power, or to parity; one, advocating an active morality and its right to inclusion as an equal person rather than a colonized one. This has been a city of perpetual confrontation, however cloaked, between the powerless and those who influence, control, and engineer the city’s movement in its inexorable and often ruthless march toward “greatness,” a word for which my definition will hardly suffice.


“Ethos and Creativity: The Impulse as Malleable” in Where We Live: Essays about Indiana

Mari Evans

In the beginning, in most of the Black enclaves throughout Indianapolis and even on “The Avenue” itself, there were dreams to go around, and the belief that attainment logically followed determined effort was contagious. Nearly everyone had plans, destinations, “goals,” whether articulated or merely smoldering in some recess of the collective mind. Black folk were firmly convinced that with hard work and a “good” disposition the future was theirs for the taking. The group worked every bit as hard as it played, fed on its understanding of unlimited possibility, and gave off an enormous energy.

The Indiana Avenue area was what I knew best. At one time it stretched in a sprawling, random way (and always “approximately”) from 16th and Illinois Street to the Avenue’s matrix, to Senate Avenue, to Michigan, to Fall Creek, to Tenth and so on. It included the smart new Flanner House homes, erected through sweat equity contracts, and the proud new Fall Creek YMCA. “The Avenue” began and ended in town, and “town” always seemed to be one’s destination whenever one ventured outside the brotherhood, the sisterhood of the community; one only worked elsewhere.


“Ethos and Creativity: The Impulse as Malleable” in Where We Live: Essays about Indiana

Mari Evans

Somehow the line from the civil rights classic “We Shall Overcome,” with its wistful “someday” as a sardonic tag, has always seemed extraordinarily cynical when sung in the midst of the structured dismemberment of a racial group. It is difficult to explain “destruction” in the midst of construction and plenty, or to “prove” a destroyed environment in the midst of modern renovation, elegance, and urban beauty that is almost sylvan in its perfection. Difficult to find the anger to rail at such beauty, except that the destruction, the “locking out,” has also been psychological—and has left such apathy in its wake. The accommodations, the compromises have taken their toll.

One would have to have known the people, walked the streets. To understand the enormity of what transpired, one would have to have been there, somewhere in the beginning, during that time when hope boogalooed, time-stepped, and literally “ran wild” down the Avenue and throughout the flurry of neighborhoods that comprised the city’s Black community.

The planned obsolescence of a thriving Black community near the heart of the city was eventually successful and resulted in the demolition of schools, private homes, churches, small Black businesses, private social facilities, public recreation areas, and most importantly the general destruction of a sense of community and a way of life that was in fact the matrix for many of today’s Black “gentry.”


In her essay “Ethos and Creativity: The Impulse as Malleable,” Mari Evans explains that being Black “defines who I am in Indianapolis, shapes the nature of my creativity, influences whether I am creative, and in the final analysis determines how my creativity is received.” . . . The issues of living in Indianapolis impacted her writings. I could not express more accurately her thoughts on living in this city and its influence.

—Kisha Tandy, Curator of Social History
Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites

THEN: The area was a “complete” neighborhood where we could get anything we needed: clothing, food, entertainment, recreation, etc. Diversity existed in income/wealth and educational attainment. The schools were good as education was emphasized. We studied foreign languages, music, art, health, home economics (girls), shop (boys).

NOW: Just about everything has been wiped away! The area is devoid of any energy, and the Black culture has been marginalized to the point where we are constantly categorized as “museum relics.” Another huge change is the obvious disinvestment in basic physical infrastructure and services.  Our sidewalks and crossings are extremely unsafe—literally death traps. Bus stops are inconvenient. People don’t know their neighbors. When I was growing up we knew everyone and their families.

—Paula Brooks, longtime Ransom Place neighborhood resident and historian

Mari Evans was born in Toledo, Ohio, but spent the majority of her life in IndianapolisEvans, who was an important poet in the Black Arts Movement, taught at Spelman College, Purdue University, Indiana University Purdue University IndianapolisCornell University and several other higher-education institutions. In 1968 she published her first work, Where Is All the Music?, followed two years later by her more famous I Am a Black Woman. Evans published many collections of poetry, children’s booksessays and plays throughout her career.  


Indianapolis is a place that inspires creativity. This is one of a dozen original pieces of visual and performing art created by Hoosier artists inspired by Bookmark Indy authors.


Matthew Phemster

Musician | Matthew’s Instagram

“Black Roses”

“Frozen Moon”


A love for music and music-making was instilled in songwriter and saxophonist Matthew Phemster as a child by his great-grandmother Mari Evans, or “Mom Mari.” Phemster’s contemporary jazz compositions engage the rich music history of Indiana Avenue, the continuous consumption of the historical Black neighborhood by the city of Indianapolis and current issues and efforts in racial justice. Both of Phemster’s tracks star recordings of Mari Evans reading her workBlack Roses” features Evans’s “Speak the Truth to the People,” and “Frozen Moon” includes “I Have Not Ceased to Love You”as well as Phemster’s own lyrics and instrumental compositions that both complement Evans’s writing and continue her spirit and mission to promote equity and Black pride. 


Matthew Phemster pictured with his great-grandmother Mari Evans.



Intersection of Indiana Avenue and West Street


Closest IndyGo Stops

Indiana Avenue & West Street (Route 6)

Martin Luther King Jr. Street & Walnut Street (Routes 15 & 34)


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