A Downtown Lynching in 1845

September 30, 2023 • Phil Bremen

A state historical marker unveiled Sept. 30, 2023, in the heart of downtown Indianapolis, tells an episode of Hoosier history that some people would rather forget - and most people had never heard of.

In the middle of the afternoon on Independence Day, 1845, three white men with a reputation for brawling assaulted John Tucker. The 45-year-old freed slave had been walking peacefully along Washington Street. He fought back as he tried to make his way to the local marshal's office to report the attack. But Tucker was outnumbered.

Halfway between the Statehouse and what now is

Monument Circle, they beat him to death as a crowd of onlookers watched.

"It was a horrible spectacle," The Indiana State Sentinel reported at the time. "All good men will reflect upon it with deep regret."

Some 178 years later, the Indiana Remembrance Coalition and the Indiana Historical Bureau dedicated a state marker commemorating the crime - and the subsequent prison sentence for one of the attackers. The marker stands at the northwest corner of Washington and Illinois streets.

"Now more than ever, the stories of the past from all folks need to be told," Deputy Mayor Judith Thomas told the gathering, "so that we can all come together and lay a strong foundation of understanding and respect, leading to a brighter future."

Nicole Poletika, staff historian at the Indiana Historical Bureau, noted that in 1845, people of color faced "many obstacles in the pursuit of unequivocal freedom after enslavement. So, as we continue to reckon with discrimination and racial violence, let us remember John Tucker."

"More than 160 bills now in state legislatures across the country seek to stifle teaching this kind of history," said Eunice Trotter, director of Indiana Landmarks' Black Heritage Preservation Program and an IRC member. "Here in Indiana, we the people are saying all history matters." It was the research of Leon Bates, an Indianapolis historian and IRC member, that led the Indiana Historical Bureau to approve this marker.

"In 1845, African Americans could not vote, African-Americans could not give testimony in court - at least against a white person," Bates said. "But the community still rose up - and they convicted Nicholas Wood."

Wood served three years in prison. One suspect was acquitted. Another alleged attacker fled the state.

Also speaking was the Rev. Carlos Perkins, senior pastor of Bethel Cathedral AME. John Tucker was said to be a member of the cathedral's predecessor, Bethel AME Church.

"We build monuments so that those who are yet to come will know the stony roads we traveled, felt in days when hope was unborn," Perkins said.

Phil Bremen