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Black man's death in Indiana ruled a lynching nearly 100 years later

George Tompkins was found hanging from a tree with his hands bound behind his back in Indianapolis in 1922, and his death was initially ruled a suicide.

The death of a young Black man who was found hanging from a tree in Indiana nearly 100 years ago has finally been ruled a lynching, officials said.

Even though 19-year-old George Tompkins' hands had been bound behind his back, the Indianapolis slaying was ruled a suicide in 1922 and no one was ever arrested.

The record was corrected Saturday as Marion County Deputy Chief Coroner Alfie McGinty displayed a new death certificate that listed Tompkins' passing as the result of homicide.

“We will bring justice to something that was unconscionable to me," McGinty said. "We are proud to be a part of this history some 100 years later, and we will remember George Tompkins."

Activists with the Indiana Remembrance Coalition had been pushing for Tompkins’ death certificate to be changed.

Phil Bremen, a volunteer administrator with the group, said Tompkins' case stood out because it was so casually brushed aside with no follow-up by local authorities.

"It got written off in two days as a suicide. His lynching was buried before his body was, if you can fathom that," Bremen, a retired Ball State University communications professor, said Monday.

"He was lynched on March 16. He was buried on March 20. The story disappeared no later than March 19. It was gone from the front pages, gone from the papers in two days."

Tompkins walked out of his home 7:30 a.m. the day of his death, his family said at the time, and he was found hanging from a tree at about 2 p.m. near the corner or Lafayette and Cold Spring roads. 

“This recognition comes 100 years too late," Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said. "It is up to public officials like myself and others to preserve and promote equal justice for all residents of our city."

Karrah Herring, Gov. Eric Holcomb's chief equity, inclusion and opportunity officer, said the acknowledgment of Tompkins' brutal death almost a century later is still valuable.

The U.S. Senate only last week gave final passage to a bill to make lynching a federal crime.

"We have to be comfortable with uncomfortable conversations even today," Herring said.

CORRECTION (March 14, 2022, 9:05 p.m. ET): A headline on a previous version of this article misspelled the last name of the man who was lynched. He was George Tompkins, not Thompkins.