MOUNT VERNON – A mob rounded up four Black men and hauled them to the courthouse lawn.

Earlier that week, in October 1878, a group of white women claimed the men – William Chambers, Jim Good, Jeff Hopkins and Ed Warner – had raped them.

The men repeatedly proclaimed their innocence, but it didn’t matter. Without the benefit of any judge or jury, they were hanged on the spot. And three other men implicated in the crime were eventually killed as well.

Like many racial atrocities in the U.S., the event tragically faded from public memory. But 144 years later, it’s finally being acknowledged.

Thanks to a school projected by Mount Vernon High School Sophie Kloppenburg, a historical marker and memorial bench will be unveiled at the spot of the men’s deaths this October.

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Kloppenburg, 17, didn't learn about the men’s deaths in history class, she said, but through a conversation with her driving instructor.

“I learned about the whole incident while I was driving for the first time and my driving instructor told me about it and I had never heard of it before,” she said. “So I was shocked, because it was kind of a big deal, at least in my mind.”

A class and a book by a former judge

This past school year, Kloppenburg joined Innovation and Open Source Learning: a class focused on community projects and research. Looking for a topic, she took the lynching story to her teacher, who hadn’t heard about it either. That drove Kloppenburg to a shine a light on it even more.

To get started, she read “Judge Lynch!:” a book about the hangings written by former Posey County Judge James M. Redwine.

Redwine served as an area judge more than 38 years before becoming Senior Judge for the State of Indiana for two years. He’s a also a prolific writer, and has done scores of research on the 1878 lynchings.

At the end of the book, Redwine wrote that he would like a memorial on the southeast corner of the courthouse to mark the men’s deaths.

Then Kloppenburg took on the project.

A killing spree

The week of October 12, 1878, Mount Vernon was the site of a killing spree. Seven Posey County African-American men would eventually die.

Earlier that week, three white women “living in a quiet and lonely part” of town alleged they were raped by several African-American men.

The story, which Redwine has covered in his book and a section of his website dedicated to the killings, goes that three women sex workers opened their door one day thinking they would receive a note from a white man. Instead, they claimed they were “thrown down” and “ravished” by a group of Black men.

The men implicated were Jim Good, Edward Hill, William Chambers, Jeff Hopkins, Ed Warner and other “unnamed Negroes.”

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The allegations sent a mob of 200 white men prowling through the city. The Black men were caught, and instead of being given a day in court, the mob members took the deaths into their own hands.

Chambers, Good, Hopkins and Warner were killed at the courthouse. Before being hung, all proclaimed their innocence and stated to have alibis.

The bodies of the four men were left swinging until after the funeral of Thomas, which lasted almost all day, as a “warning” to others.

The hysteria eventually led to more deaths as well.

A Black man named Daniel Harrison Sr. shot police Captain Cyrus O. Thomas at his home thinking that Thomas was part of the same mob of white men that came and took his sons, who were later implicated in the rape as well.

Harrison turned himself in for the shooting, and the mob responded by brutally killing him. Not far from the hangings, at the Posey County jail, he was shot twice before his body was cut up and thrown in the jail’s privy, or outhouse.

His son, John Harrison, was eventually shot as well, and his body was stuffed in a hollow tree on the farm of future Indiana Governor Alvin P. Hovey, Redwine wrote. Daniel Harrison Jr., meanwhile, was burned alive in a steam engine of a train locomotive.

The cause of Edward Hill’s death is unknown.

John Leffel, the editor for The Western Star newspaper, reported it all in the paper. He hoped the crimes would be covered up and forgotten.

“Let the appropriately dark pall of oblivion cover the whole transaction,” he wrote.

That pall largely remained – until Redwine learned about the deaths in the 1990s.

A book behind a furnace

While looking in the basement of the Posey County Courthouse one day, he found an old order book from 1878 that talked about the cases. It had been setting behind a furnace.

“Anytime there is injustice, it doesn't do any good to cover up the injustice,” he told the Courier & Press. “You’ve got to bring some light to the actual lives of the people who committed the crimes and denied people their day in court.”

Redwine said it's important to have this memorial on the courthouse grounds, especially after it was covered up by the legal community. The courthouse is supposed to be a symbol of justice, and with the lynchings being the antithesis of justice, the memorial is the best way to know they are connected.

Getting the memorial

Kloppenburg began the process with the historic marker and bench by meeting with the Posey County Commissioners. That blossomed into three separate meetings: informing them of the history and talking about the incident; creating a memorial and marker for the victims; and determining the wording for what everything would say.

The marker states that it will serve as a memorial to victims, a reminder of how the event was handled and how important as a community it is to forgive and move forward but not forget this history. A QR code will be linked to give more information about for onlookers.

It will all be unveiled at a late October dedication ceremony. Kloppenburg wants everyone out to see the unveiling and learn more about the stories and how the community is moving on from it. “Doing this project means a lot to me because it’s given me a chance to kind of reconnect with my Black heritage and gotten to reach out and know the spread-out Black community in Mount Vernon,” she said.

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