Finally, a headstone for victim of Indianapolis lynching 100 years ago
— Indiana Daily Times, March 17, 1922
A memorial for a 19-year-old Black man, found lynched in Riverside Park in March 1922, will be held at a Westside cemetery nearly 100 years to the day after he was killed.
George Tompkins was found hanging from a sapling, his hands tied behind his back.
To at least partially redress the largely forgotten crime, a headstone will be placed at his unmarked grave. The ceremony will follow a program beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 12, at the funeral home at Floral Park Cemetery, 425 N. Holt Rd.
“Even in the Black community, most people have never heard about this chapter in our city’s history,” said Clete Ladd, a veteran educator and member of the Indiana Remembrance Coalition, the interracial, interfaith group organizing the memorial.
“We need to know these things,” Ladd said, “because the past has shaped the present.”
Organizers have invited a number of civic and religious leaders.
Confirmed speakers include Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Karrah Herring, Gov. Holcomb’s newly appointed chief officer of equity, inclusion and opportunity.
Also speaking will be Professor Rebecca Shrum, an IUPUI historian familiar with the Tompkins lynching and its cultural context, and the Rev. Clyde Posley, senior pastor of Antioch Baptist Church. He also serves as the first civilian chairman of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s General Orders Board.
The remembrance group calls the event a ceremony of healing amid the national reckoning around racial and social justice.
“We can’t undo the horror committed against this man – or against the more than 4,000 other Black Americans lynched during decades of racist terror,” said Betty Brandt, director of the Community for Contemplation & Justice at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, where the Indiana Remembrance Coalition is based.
“But we can acknowledge what was done, give him at least a headstone, and pledge to move forward together as a better country,” Brandt said.
The March 16, 1922, death was front-page news for two days. “The man could not have hanged himself,” the county coroner said.
But then someone scrawled the word “suicide” on the death certificate and the story disappeared. No one was ever brought to justice.
“Early 20th century officials were reluctant to label African American deaths as lynchings, especially within the city limits,” according to Professor Paul Mullins, the IUPUI anthropologist who researched the Tompkins lynching.