October 25, 2023

Purdue plans free showing of musical-drama production ‘The Price of Progress: The Indiana Avenue Story’

Two-act play showcases heritage of ‘The Harlem of the Midwest,’ downtown Indianapolis’ Black community where IUPUI now stands

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging will present a free showing of the play “The Price of Progress: The Indiana Avenue Story” at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, in Stewart Center’s Fowler Hall. 

The two-act play highlights the heritage of a downtown Indianapolis community called “The Harlem of the Midwest” for its thriving culture of Black-owned businesses, performing arts, educational influences and a jazz legacy — from bebop to hip-hop — that attracted the most renowned musicians of the 20th century.

Described as an entertaining multimedia theatrical experience featuring comedy, drama, live music, and song and dance, the stage production was written by Purdue alumnus Vernon A. Williams, communication and community engagement strategist for IUPUI. It was inspired by the 2010 book by the same name, written by IUPUI anthropology professor Paul Mullins and Indianapolis author, historian and playwright Glenn White. 

While the production is free, tickets are required. Complimentary tickets are available at Stewart Center’s Loeb Box Office or online.

“As we are poised to launch Purdue University in Indianapolis in July 2024, this informational and entertaining production will celebrate the historical legacy of the area and serve as a catalyst to inform audience members of the vibrant community,” said Renee Thomas, associate vice provost for diversity and inclusion at Purdue. 

Additional Information

This downtown Indianapolis community was home to numerous Black residents and European immigrants from the 19th century and into the early 20th century, when many Black families began to settle along Indiana Avenue and in the neighborhoods where IUPUI sits today.

As in other U.S. cities, the area became segregated along the color line as it evolved into a place for Black residents to pursue and create their slice of the American dream. The neighborhood remained for more than 50 years until it was displaced by urban renewal projects that created space for state government expansion, interstate highways and the campus of IUPUI.

priceofprogress “The Price of Progress: The Indiana Avenue Story,” written by Purdue alumnus Vernon A. Williams, is a multimedia theatrical experience featuring comedy, drama, live music, and song and dance. (Photo provided) Download image

The first act of the play focuses on the music, fashion and businesses along Indiana Avenue. Names like Madam C.J. Walker, jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery and basketball legend Oscar Robertson abound. The second act tells IUPUI history through scenes portraying the urban university’s 1969 founding, with a re-creation of a radio interview with Richard Lugar, former Indianapolis mayor, U.S. senator and statesman.

The play was conceived by Khalilah Shabazz, director of IUPUI’s Multicultural Center, and written by Williams, a native of Gary who earned a master’s degree in communications from Purdue and a journalism degree from Indiana University.

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a public research institution with excellence at scale. Ranked among top 10 public universities and with two colleges in the top 4 in the United States, Purdue discovers and disseminates knowledge with a quality and at a scale second to none. More than 105,000 students study at Purdue across modalities and locations, with 50,000 in person on the West Lafayette campus. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue’s main campus has frozen tuition 12 years in a row. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap, including its first comprehensive urban campus in Indianapolis, the new Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. School of Business, and Purdue Computes, at https://www.purdue.edu/president/strategic-initiatives.

Writer, media contact: Phillip Fiorini, pfiorini@purdue.edu, 765-430-6189

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