‘The Least We Could Do’

Sophie Kloppenburg, 19, leads the charge to honor Posey County lynching victims

Editor’s Note: This is an extended version of the story published in the January/February 2024 issue of Evansville Living.

Sophie Kloppenburg first heard the story in 2021 during her junior year at Mount Vernon High School while a family friend, Dr. Thomas Guggenheim, taught her to drive. During their time on the roads winding through Southwestern Indiana, he informed her about the lynchings of several Black men that occurred Oct. 10-12, 1878, in Posey County. It is a story all too familiar — no one responsible was held accountable, and the final resting places of the murdered men still are unknown.

Photo of Sophie Kloppenburg at Hovey House in Mount Vernon, Indiana, by Lioba Kloppenburg

“I’m a Black woman and never heard of the lynchings,” Kloppenburg says.

According to University of Southern Indiana researchers, these lynchings were a part of the largest recorded mass lynching of Black Americans in Indiana history. It began Oct. 10, 1878, when seven Black men were accused of assaulting white female employees of an establishment of sex workers.

A group of white Posey County residents chased brothers Daniel Harrison Jr. and John Harrison from their homes. They were murdered within a day of each other. On Oct. 12, their father, Daniel Harrison Sr., was arrested for trying to protect his sons, then taken from jail and killed.

Also detained at the jail for the same alleged crime were Jim Good, William Chambers, Edward Warner, and Jeff Hopkins. After Harrison Sr. was killed, white citizens hung the remaining four on the grounds of the Posey County Courthouse. While a grand jury was called in response to the murders, no one was indicted.

Photo of 2022 dedication by Lioba Kloppenburg

Further details surrounding the murders are graphic. Once Kloppenburg heard the story, she read a fictionalized account of the murders, “Judge Lynch!” by retired Posey County Circuit Court Judge James Redwine. Kloppenburg says the book’s epilogue includes the sentiment, “In regards to justice, perhaps a memorial on the southeast corner of the courthouse would be a fitting start.”

At the time, Kloppenburg was enrolled in a class taught by Kevin Krizan called Innovation and Open-Source Learning that encouraged civic action among students. So, she made it her mission to erect a memorial for those seven men denied justice.

“So many other amazing projects came out of that class,” Kloppeburg says.

Collaborating with USI’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, she began the work of trying to erect a memorial to the victims of those lynchings, which meant at least four meetings with Posey County Commissioners. Throughout the process, she worked with professors at USI — including Kristalyn Shefveland, Laurel Standiford Reyes, and Cacee Hoyer-Mabis — and researched and met relatives of the murdered men, including Andre Le Mont Wilson, an author, essayist, and a descendant of the Harrisons.

Photo of Sophie Kloppenburg at the 2023 commemoration ceremony provided by Kristalyn Shefveland

Kloppenburg says Jim Good’s descendants Diana Daniels, executive director and founder of the Indiana Council on Educating Students of Color; Aaron Bonds, the director of Actor Interpretation & Theater at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Indiana; Lynette Troutman; and several others were heavily involved in the planning and participated in this year’s public lectures and commemoration ceremony.

She also was assisted by her mother Lioba Kloppenburg, Guggenheim, anthropologist Mark Auslander of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, and former Posey County resident Ben Uchitelle, whose ancestors recalled the events. Still, it was Kloppenburg who led the 1878 Memorial Initiative and ultimately secured a memorial bench and historical marker commemorating the murders.

“The least we could do is honor and remember to the men that were lynched,” says Kloppenburg, now a freshman sustainable development major at Columbia University in New York City. “We didn’t just want people to know these men were killed.”

Photo of memorial bench by Daniel Knight

Kloppenburg says it was important for her to tell the full story. At the initial dedication on Oct. 21, 2022, she says between 200 to 300 showed up at the historic Hovey House in Mount Vernon. A year later, Kloppenburg and those who helped bring her vision to life honored the first anniversary with speakers, lectures, and a commemoration ceremony. To date, there is no similar memorial in Evansville commemorating lynchings or the city’s race riot of July 1903.

“A crowd that size watched those men get lynched. It was really beautiful to see that many people come to that same place, but this time to condemn the racism that killed them and to support their memorialization,” Kloppenburg recalls.

Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti joined Tucker Publishing Group in September 2022 as a staff writer. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2020 with a bachelors degree in English. A Connecticut native, Maggie has ridden horses for 15 years and has hunt seat competition experience on the East Coast.

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