Mount Vernon, Indiana – Sophie Kloppenburg came to the lectern, said her name and, without saying another word, received a standing ovation.

What did a 17-year-old boy do to deserve such respect in Posey County, Indiana? She corrected an injustice that had been in the making for 144 years.

In 1878, after being accused of rape, seven black men were lynched, and four of them were hanged right outside the county courthouse, which they never managed to set foot in. It was the largest lynching in state history. However, the whole incident was largely forgotten – until Kloppenburg heard about it.

She started at the courthouse, looking for a plaque or something. She said there was no public acknowledgment of what happened.

“I’m sure people don’t want to remember because it’s hard to remember complicated things, but just forgetting is unacceptable,” Kloppenburg told CBS News.

It’s also unrealistic to expect others to care as much about the problem as she does. Posey County is over 95% white. The reminder of the racist past is not exactly a priority here.

But that didn’t stop Kloppenburg from reaching out to county commissioners. More than once.

Commission President Bill Collins said Kloppenburg is passionate about the issue.

“You’d probably be hard-pressed to find very many high school seniors in any country who would want to do something like this,” Collins told CBS News.

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

After her applause, Kloppenburg thanked his community.

“I am proud of Posey County, Indiana, and the beautiful people who have had the difficult conversations here and given a tangible voice to their minorities,” she said. “Thank you.”

This week, thanks to that diplomatic gesture, another crowd formed in the heart of red America, 144 years after that crowd gathered in the square. This time to watch Kloppenburg open the memorial bench and history marker that formally recognized the past and celebrated progress.

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