Uncovering the Duluth lynchings

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This week Uncovering the Truth in Minnesota takes a look at a dark part in Minnesota’s history when three innocent Black men, Isaac Mcghie, Elmer Jackson, and Elias Clayton, were lynched in the city of Duluth.

On June 15, 1920, three Black circus workers, Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie, suspects in an assault case, were taken from jail and lynched by a white mob of thousands in Duluth, Minnesota.

Rumors had circulated that six African Americans had raped and robbed a nineteen-year-old woman. A physician who examined her found no physical evidence of rape.

The 1920 lynchings are the only known instance of lynching of African-Americans in Minnesota. Twenty other lynchings were recorded in Minnesota, and included mainly Native Americans and whites. Three men were convicted of rioting, but none served more than fifteen months. No one was ever prosecuted for the murders.

The state of Minnesota passed anti-lynching legislation in April 1921, and lynchings have not been recorded in Minnesota since. In 2003, the city of Duluth erected a memorial to the lynched men. 

On October 10, 2003, a plaza and statues were dedicated in Duluth to the three men who were killed. The bronze statues are part of a memorial across the street from the site of the lynchings. The Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial was designed and sculpted by Carla J. Stetson, in collaboration with editor and writer Anthony Peyton-Porter. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress

Residents of Duluth also began work on ways to commemorate the victims of the lynching. The Clayton Jackson McGhie Scholarship Committee set up a fund in 2000, and awarded its first scholarship in 2005.

In 2020 Max Mason, a black man convicted for the rape accusations in court after the lynchings, was granted the first posthumous pardon in the history of the state.

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