Duluth marks anniversary of memorial to 3 lynching victims

Memorial to lynching victims
Two children visit a memorial in Duluth, Minn., to three black men who were lynched across the street from the site in 1920 after being falsely accused of raping a white woman. Ten years ago Duluth set aside this street corner as a public space to honor and remember the men.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

Duluth residents are commemorating the 10-year anniversary this weekend of the construction of a memorial to honor the victims of a lynching nearly a century ago.

In 1920 three black men -- Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie, who worked in a traveling circus -- were falsely accused of raping a white woman. They were dragged out of the city jail by a white mob and hanged from a light pole in downtown Duluth.

Thousands of people looked on as the men were killed and did nothing, said Blair Moses, co-chair of the Clayton Jackson McGhee Memorial Committee.

"They were murdered, they were hung, they were lynched, at this intersection," Moses said, "and they were killed out of fear and out of hate, but especially out of inaction."

Ten years ago, the city of Duluth built a memorial to the three men that one researcher, LaTonya Autry, a doctoral student at the University of Delaware who studies public memorials, described as the most prominent memorial to the victims of a lynching in the United States.

At an event on Friday marking the construction of the memorial, Carl Crawford, the Intercultural Center coordinator at Lake Superior College in Duluth, said: "This day for me always fills my heart with both pain and joy. The pain in the fact that this lynching ever took place. And the joy at the way that we have tried to honor the three men."

But Crawford told the crowd that disparities still exist for black people in Duluth, who make up less than 3 percent of the city's population. African-Americans trail the general population in graduation rates, homeownership and other social indicators, he said.

A vigil will be held at noon Saturday at the gravesites of the three men.

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