“Living Legend” Alpha Blackburn Has Had a Lifelong Focus on Community

A philanthropist, businesswoman, award-winning fashion designer, and former TV host, Alpha Blackburn is now being honored by the Indiana Historical Society as a Living Legend.
Featured Image Alpha Blackburn

a headshot of Alpha Blackburn wearing a black turtle neck and smiling with teeth
Alpha Blackburn

There are few women who have made as large of an impact on Indiana as Alpha Blackburn. Blackburn, who has lived in Indianapolis for 58 years, is an interior and fashion designer with her own clothing line. She also has been a TV personality, magazine editor, and the president/CEO of Blackburn Architects. However, that’s not how she would describe herself to someone who didn’t know her. When asked, Blackburn said she is “an artist and someone with deep interest in connecting to the community.”

Blackburn’s interest in the community is evident. For starters, she has served on more than 60 boards, commissions, and civic committees. “Many have been related to arts and education,” she said. For those who have the desire to become more involved in the community or to join a board, she advises to “have an open persona and show up at the highest level of your ability to contribute.”

What some people might find surprising is that Blackburn also describes herself as an introvert. “People have asked me how I’m able to function in the way that is necessary to be effective with groups,” she said. “I think I strive to put people at ease, and in that, I am perceived to be extroverted.”

a photo of Alpha Blackburn on a runway for a fashion gala
Alpha Blackburn

Blackburn, a Howard University alumna, said she had to learn “that my voice was valuable, my intellect was valuable, and my talents were real.” Her abilities served her well when she was on TV (from the early 1970s to 1981), “interviewing people who were achievers, celebrities, decision-makers, and the group of folks often referred to as ‘movers and shakers.’”

Her life has been filled with many accomplishments, but when asked which ones she is most proud of, Blackburn mentioned “the trust she’s built up over the years” and the fact that she was able to continue the work of the architectural firm Blackburn Architects after her esteemed husband, Walter, passed away in 2000.

Part of that architectural work was completing the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.  Blackburn also was “amazed and thrilled to have been inducted into the Central Indiana Business Hall of Fame in 2019,” she said. In addition, she cited “having some equanimity in life and being able to put my life and activities in perspective” as personal accomplishments.

a photo of the Walter & Alpha Blackburn Men of Substance & Style Gala
Walter & Alpha Blackburn Men of Substance & Style Gala

Blackburn is known for her philanthropy. She oversees the Walter & Alpha Blackburn Scholarship Fund, which is open to high school students who will attend college to major in architecture or the arts but need financial assistance to do so. There also are Blackburn Protege Awards, which are awarded annually at the Walter & Alpha Blackburn Men of Substance & Style Fashion Gala. The awards “honor people who inspire and uplift the next generation of wonderfully creative people,” Blackburn said. The 2022 recipient of the Blackburn Protege Award is Damon Hewlin, a founding partner at Meticulous Design + Architecture, and some of the previous recipients have included Indianapolis City-County Council President Vop Osili in 2005, which was the first year for the award, and Dr. Lauren Dungy-Poythress in 2016.

a photo of Damon Hewlin and Alpha Blackburn smiling with teeth and standing together
Damon Hewlin and Alpha Blackburn

This summer Blackburn added yet another achievement to her list of accomplishments. She has been named one of the Indiana Historical Society’s Living Legends. The gala and ceremony will take place on July 28 at the Indiana Historical Society. Blackburn said the honor was totally unexpected: “There are a lot of people in this state who have made tremendous contributions to society in whatever fields of endeavor they have chosen, so the odds are like winning a lottery,” she said. “I’m honored to be in such distinguished company.”

Diane Moore, who is a communications professional, enjoys writing about visionaries who have made amazing contributions to the community.

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