The Walking Encyclopedia: IHS Presents Madam Walker Legacy Center Docent with History Award

Joey Amato | October 11, 2019

By Joey Amato

The Indiana Historical Society (IHS) proudly presents its 2019 Hubert Hawkins Local History Award to an Indianapolis resident often described as the “walking encyclopedia.”

Thomas H. Ridley will be recognized during IHS’s annual Founders Day dinner, Monday, Nov. 4, at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center in downtown Indianapolis. The award is made annually to a local historian for his or her distinguished service or career in local history.

Ridley has come to be known as the “walking encyclopedia,” partly due to his knowledge of the Madam Walker Legacy Center and the rich history of its location on Indiana Avenue. At 5-years old, he was in the crowd as The Walker opened its doors in 1927. Now 96, Ridley has spent nearly two decades as its lead docent.

In this role, he has shared the story of Madam C.J. Walker with thousands of people from all over the world. Those who know Ridley say he also regales guests with memories of “The Avenue,” as Indiana Avenue was known during its heyday.

“In many ways, Mr. Ridley has become the public face of the Walker Center,” said Madam Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, in a letter of support for his nomination. “He provides stories and anecdotes about neighborhood personalities, social organizations, memorable jazz performances and other significant events with the kind of intimate detail that even the most well-trained tour guides can’t offer.”

Ridley is a graduate of Crispus Attacks High School and a United States Army veteran who fought in the Allied invasion of Normandy, known as D-Day, during World War II. He has taken part in countless magazine, radio and television interviews, and in 2012, he authored From the Avenue—A Memoir: Life Experiences and Indiana Avenue History.

IHS is proud to honor Ridley and 12 other individuals and organizations with its Founders Day awards. The annual dinner and ceremony, presented by Hirtle, Callaghan and Co., celebrates the accomplishments of historians, teachers, writers and businesses from around the state, as well as the work of IHS.

For more information on this event and other IHS programs, call (317) 232-1882 or visit