top of page

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.