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More than a century after 7 Black men were lynched, an Indiana teen sought to rectify the injustice

Indiana teen sheds light on 144-year-old injustice
Indiana teen sheds light on 144-year-old injustice 02:38

Mount Vernon, Indiana — Sophie Kloppenburg stepped up to a lectern, said her name and without uttering another word, she received a standing ovation. 

What did the 17-year-old do to deserve such respect in Posey County, Indiana? She rectified an injustice, 144 years in the making. 

In 1878, after a rape allegation, seven Black men were lynched and four of them were hanged directly outside the county courthouse they never got to set foot in. It was the largest lynching in state history. Yet the whole incident had been largely forgotten — until Kloppenburg heard about it. 

She started at the courthouse, looking for a plaque or any mention whatsoever. She said there was no public acknowledgement of what happened. 

"I'm sure people don't want to remember because it's hard to remember tough things, but it's unacceptable to just forget," Kloppenburg told CBS News. 

It's also unrealistic to expect others to care as much about the issue as she did. Posey County is more than 95% White. Erecting a reminder to a racist past wasn't exactly a high priority around here. 

But that didn't stop Kloppenburg from appealing to the county commissioners. Repeatedly. 

Commission president Bill Collins said Kloppenburg was very passionate about the issue. 

"You'd probably be hard-pressed to find very many seniors in high school anywhere in the country that would be willing to take on something like this," Collins told CBS News. 

And there are even fewer who could succeed, he said. 

After her standing ovation, Kloppenburg thanked her community. 

"I'm proud of Posey County, Indiana, and the beautiful people here for having the difficult conversations and giving a tangible voice to its minorities," she said. "Thank you." 

This week, thanks to that diplomatic touch, in the heart of red America 144 years after that mob gathered in the square, another crowd formed at the very same spot. This time to watch Kloppenburg unveil a memorial bench and history marker that formally acknowledged the past and celebrated the progress.

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