What’s In a Name: Sam Jones Expressway

Written by on July 22, 2013 in What’s in a Name? - 6 Comments
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Sam jones expressway and 70 indianapolis

Sam Jones Expressway
Location: Former Airport Location

Sam Jones, first president of Indianapolis Urban League
The road was originally known as the Indianapolis Airport Expressway.  When the new midfield terminal was under construction, it became clear that the original Airport Expressway would no longer led to the airport terminal.  Federal and state officials notified then Mayor Peterson that the street needed a new name to avoid confusion.  Peterson selected Sam Jones, the first director of the Indianapolis Urban League.

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Jones was born on March 3, 1928, in Heidelberg, Mississippi to Henry and Sallie Belle Jones.   He graduated from Clark College in Atlanta in 1950 and went on to earn a master’s degree in sociology in 1954 and a master’s degree in social work in 1956, both from Atlanta University.

Jones spent nearly his entire career working for the Urban League.  He started with leagues in Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota before coming the first president of the Indianapolis Urban League in 1966.  As president, Jones sought to improve the lives of all Indianapolis residents through his work in education, housing, healthcare and civil rights.

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In addition to his work for the Urban League, Jones served the Indianapolis community in every way imaginable.  He was a member of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, Near North Development, Methodist Hospital Foundation, Indiana Conference on Social Concerns and Citizens Complaint Advisory Board.

Under his leadership, the Urban League raised the money to construct a permanent home for the Urban League – now known as the Sam H. Jones Center – along Indiana Avenue.  He retired from the Urban League at the close of 2002.

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Jones also received numerous awards including the Whitney M. Young Race Relations Leadership Award from the National Urban League, Distinguished Alumni Award from the National Association for Equal Opportunities and Higher Education nominated by Clark Atlanta University, Oscar McCulloch Social Concerns Award and Sagamore of the Wabash from the State of Indiana.

He also was awarded honorary degrees from Vincennes University, Butler University, Martin University, Christian Theological Seminary and Indiana University.   Mayor Peterson also named the city’s top diversity award the “Sam H. Jones Best of the Best Award”.

Jones was an active member of Alpha Eta Boule, Omega Psi Phi, Rotary, NAACP, a 33rd Degree Mason and the Quarter Century Club of the National Urban League.

Jones was married to Prethenia Kent Jones, with whom he had three children Marya, Sam Jr. and Michael.

All photos courtesy of Sergio Bennett.

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About the Author

Steve Campbell is the former Deputy Mayor of Indiianapolis, owns a communications strategy consulting firm, and teaches journalism and mass communications at the IUPUI School of Journalism.

6 Comments on "What’s In a Name: Sam Jones Expressway"

  1. d mikels shea July 22, 2013 at 11:55 am · Reply

    Once upon a time,(in 50′s perhaps?) I covered (and later became volunteer for) a nonprofit, neutral research-planning-coordinating body for ALL social services–the 3 separate networks of public (govt.funded by fed/city/county/township-all separate with no common dialogue prior), voluntary (those funded by givers,foundations etc) and private (filling some unmet need not covered by others,funding etc.)

    It was headed by a dedicated liberal named Howard Gustafson (and later by recently deceased equally dedicated Ken Chapman) and it performed research services when some one or some group wanted to get funding from foundations etc for “unmet human need”–weighing the extent of need for that particular cause,whether it duplicated existing services-et cet.) Both Howard G (for whom Gustafson park named at his early tragic death) and his wonderful southern born and bred wife Nellie were the best kind of activists–they didn’t just give their names, they gave their all, marching with MLK early on when our city was dominated by conservative, non-approving leadership.) So, came the day that because our racial relations were relatively tranquil, but bubbling, someone wanted to start a branch locally of the afore-mentioned Urban League. All the prevailing leadership yelled “no, no, no{” (with a few notable exceptions-including Gustafsons and their fans. At that time Cleo Blackburn, Flanner House were, in the opinion of nay-sayers,
    “all we need in Indianapolis to keep status quo.” But fact-finding researcher that he was, HG swung enough people to get a formal “study” funded as to whether our city NEEDED a branch of the Urban League (to assess not just the way things were, but the way things might become in the increasingly turbulent nation-wide civil rights, diversity etc.) And, fortunately, the conclusion was YES, UL branch was needed–so CSC brokered funding and even named Nellie Gustafson as the first, interim director as a job search was launched that eventually, brought the wonderful Sam Jones and all his future achievements to the City of Indianapolis–end of back story. (For the rest of their lives, HG,Nellie,Sam and spouse) were the inseparable forces for a better world.) PS: As director of CSC, HG was the first “boss” to invite and welcome the “colored” staff to annual holiday and anniversary parties in their north side home. His death and the subsequent forced merger of CSC to disappear into folds of UW were and still are a loss to the city. But for CSC, its dedicated civic volunteers who “lobbied” our GA, city’s park system would have floundered (CSC “Recreation for ALL” not only inventoried and vetted existing green space but broke down the legal fence which prevented acquisition of new parkland Outside then city limits. Direct and quick result after getting enabling legislation was donation of what today is Gustafson Park–and others.

    There is great history in the covered by cobwebs archive of how CSC was the catalyst for social changes. It became almost extinct due to maneuverings of worst imported UW head in history–fired but not soon enough. A story being forgotten today. (Files,archives when last known of were in today’s UW .)

  2. Louis Mahern July 22, 2013 at 12:08 pm · Reply

    I knew Sam Jones and served on a number of committees with him in the 1970′s and 80′s He was a quiet spoken and likeable guy who was quite effective in serving his constituency. You know you’re getting old when they start naming streets for people you actually knew.

  3. Keith W Brown July 22, 2013 at 11:12 pm · Reply

    Only problem is the expressway now goes to nowhere

  4. Norm Morford July 22, 2013 at 11:35 pm · Reply

    Thanks, Steve. Marya Jones was an attorney here in Indy. Anyone have recent contact with her and know she is still in practice here in Indy?

  5. Paul July 24, 2013 at 9:03 pm · Reply

    With all respect to Mr. Jones I’m not a fan of the name of this Expressway. I would’ve preferred someone more well known by the general population of the city. The way things have turned out with the new airport it did sort of make it a road to nowhere although perhaps some sort of redevelopment at the old airport would change that.

  6. Earl November 23, 2014 at 3:05 pm · Reply

    I grew up in Indianapolis during the time when they were building the Airport Expressway, which led straight into the airport. I played in the wild fields across which the Airport Expressway was built. I’ve lived in Illinois since 2007 and on travels through Indy have noticed that the Airport Expressway is now known as “Sam Jones Expressway”. To those who do not live in Indianapolis, this results in a “huh?” moment. For a kid who grew up on that side of town, the question became “who is Sam Jones?” When trying to find out, I came across your site indicating that Sam Jones was an Urban League member who did great things for the city. But there is no mention that Sam Jones was associated with building the Airport Expressway, building the airport, or even that he lived on the far west side of Indianapolis. While Sam Jones’ memory surely deserves to be honored in Indianapolis, I think it would have been more fitting to rename the Airport Expressway either generically (that piece of road is actually nothing more than a restricted-access extension of Raymond Street). or for someone who had contributed to the Airport Expressway or the airport itself. As I have learned more about Sam Jones, I also think its a bit of an insult to Sam Jones for his name to be associated with what is now a road to nowhere. Surely Indianapolis can lend his name to something more prestigious and centrally located.

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