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Duluth Lynching - 100 Years Later

100 years ago on June 15, 1920, three black men, Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie, who was employed by the John Robinson Circus, were accused of raping a white woman, Irene Tuskan.

On June 14, 1920, James Sullivan and Irene Tuskan went to the circus in Duluth, MN. It is unclear the events that evening but Sullivan claimed that he was held at gunpoint while six black circus workers raped Tuskan. She claimed it was six black men that raped her. Her physician, Dr. David Graham, examined her and it showed no physical evidence of assault or rape.

Clayton, Jackson, McGhie, and three other black men were arrested and were held in the Duluth city jail. It is estimated that a white mob of 10,000 forced their way in the jail and grabbed only three of the six men. Clayton, Jackson, and McGhie were beaten and lynched from a light pole on the corner of First Street and Second Avenue East.

The corner where Clayton, Jackson and McGhie were lynched.

First Street.

2nd Avenue East.

Max Mason, one of the six men that was accused of raping Irene Tuskan, was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He served between 4-5 years and was released under the condition that he leave the state of Minnesota. On June 12, 2020, the Minnesota Board of Pardons posthumously pardoned Max Mason.

The Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial was founded in 2000 to tell the story of what happened to the three men and to keep their memory alive.

In October 2003, a memorial was dedicated across the street from the lynching. The City of Duluth apologized for the lynching at the dedication. In 2014, the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial was designated as a Heritage Preservation Landmark.

I traveled to Duluth, MN to see the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial. When I reached the corner of First Street and Second Avenue East, I thought about the three men, two lifeless bodies dangling from the lamp post and the third body on the ground. This could have been my father, uncle, brother, cousin, or friend. Lynchings and killings of unarmed men have been a dark stain in history. That’s why it is imperative to have these uncomfortable conversations about the shameful past of how innocent African American men and women were killed.

The memorial is a beautiful piece of public art. The sculptor was Carla Stetson and author Anthony Peyton Porter provided the quotations and summary on the wall.

Artist Carla Stetson designed the statues.

Author Anthony Peyton Porter did an amazing job with powerful quotes on the memorial.

This book, 'They Was Just Niggers' was published in 1979. The title of the book was changed and is entitled "The Lynchings in Duluth" Second Edition.

I went to Park Hill Cemetery to visit the gravesites of Clayton, Jackson, and McGhie. Their gravesites were unmarked for over 70 years until it was located in 1991. The NAACP Duluth Chapter and First Lutheran Church raised money for the headstones. Each of their headstones read "Deterred but not Defeated.”

The names of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, Isaac McGhie's and 4,000 men, women and children who were victims of lynchings are memorialized at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL. This is the most powerful memorial, I have been too. Every time I'm in Montgomery, AL, my first stop is to the memorial to honor and remember the ancestors who lost to lives to racial violence.

Over the years, it has been my ongoing mission to find the locations where black men who were wrongfully accused of rape were lynched and where they are buried.

Ed Johnson was accused of raping a white woman, Nevada Taylor, in Chattanooga, TN in 1906. A mob broke into the jail and hung Johnson. His last words were, "God Bless You All. I Am A Innocent Man." His conviction was posthumously vacated in 2000.

Ed Johnson is buried at Pleasant Gardens Cemetery in Ridgeside, TN.

On May 30, 1921, Dick Rowland, a shoe shiner, was accused of assaulting a white elevator operator, Sarah Page, in the elevator of a building in downtown Tulsa.

The residents never received money for the damage of their homes and business.

Eldridge Restaurant was destroyed and never reopened.

Cleaver & Cherry Building was destroyed and rebuilt.

Anderson & Pearson Grocery was destroyed and rebuilt.

Dr. A.C. Jackson was killed during the massacre.

Ruby Bates and Victoria Price accused Haywood Patterson, Olen Montgomery, Clarence Norris, Willie Roberson, Andy Wright, Ozzie Powell, Eugene Williams, Charley Weems and Roy Wright, known as the Scottsboro Boys, of rape on a freight train in 1931.

George Stinney was accused of killing two white sisters, Amie Betty June and Mary Emma in Pinewood, SC in 1944. He was the youngest person, age 14, to be executed by the electric chair. In 2014, his conviction was vacated.

Norma Padgett accused Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd, known as the Groveland Four of kidnapping and raping her in 1949 in Florida. In 2019, 70 years later, posthumous pardons were granted for the young men.

Carolyn Bryant accused Emmett Till of sexually assaulting her in 1955 at her husband's store in Money, MS. Decades later she recanted her story.

Bryant's Grocery where Carolyn Bryant lied that Emmett Till assaulted her in Money, MS.

Emmett Till's markers have been shot up several times. A new marker has been installed and is bullet proof.

Emmett Till is buried at Burr Oak Cemetery in Chicago, IL.

Timothy Brian Cole, a veteran and a law student at Texas Tech University was wrongfully accused and convicted of raping a white woman, Michele Milan, in 1985 in Lubbock, TX. He died in prison in 1999 and was posthumously vacated in 2009. In 2015, Texas Tech University awarded a posthumous honorary law and social justice degree to Cole.

Tim Cole is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Fort Worth, TX.

Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise, known as the Central Park 5, was accused of raping Trisha Meili in Central Park in 1989.

In 2018, a 9-year-old African American boy was accused of groping a white woman, Teresa Klein, known as "Cornerstore Caroline" in New York. His backpack accidentally brushing up against her backside.

And now in 2020, with another incident in Central Park, when Amy Cooper lied that Chris Cooper was threatening her and her dog.

And here we are, one hundred years later since the lynching of Clayton, Jackson, McGhie, the senseless lynching of George Floyd in Minnesota who died a slow death of 8 minutes and 46 seconds. What breaks my heart into pieces is hearing him calling for his mother.

George Floyd mural in Milwaukee, WI,

I think about my son and two nephews. I have so much fear when they walk out of the house. Every day they leave, I ask them “Where are you going?,” “What time will you be back home?,” and “Text me when you get home.” I can speak for many black women that this is a daily conversation with our sons. It is very draining, stressful and it shouldn’t have to be this way.

My Sun, Receo and Grandsun, Torah.

My oldest nephew, Jason.

My youngest nephew, Jayden.

I have a 10-month-old grandson, Torah, and with sadness in my face when I look into his innocent eyes and think about what he will have to deal with being a young black boy into a man in America.

My grandsun, Torah.

I am TIRED of seeing my brothas and sistas being executed. Being black in America is a target.




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1 Comment

It is good that articles like this one remind of how thoroughly blacks were dominated. And how easily they were oppressed.

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