In the 1920 Duluth lynching (June 15th 1920) thousands of White Americans in Duluth, Minnesota took part in the murder of three black men:
- Isaac McGhie (1900-1920)
- Elmer Jackson (1901-1920)
- Elias Clayton (1901-1920)
When the circus came to town, Irene Tusken, 19, and James Sullivan, 18, both white, went that night. Afterwards Tusken went home, briefly talked to her parents and went to bed.
In the middle of the night Sullivan called the police to report that six black circus workers raped Tusken, a white woman, at gunpoint. The circus train was just leaving town. The police had it stopped. They woke up all 140 black men on the train and lined them up along the tracks.
Sullivan and Tusken could not pick out the rapists – the black men all looked alike to them. Tusken picked out six by body shape and size. The police took some others whose alibis were weak.
Two hours the police questioned the suspects. Nothing. They let seven go and locked up the other six. The police chief and his two top men left town to catch up with the travelling circus to find more suspects.
Word of the rape spread through town.
5.00pm: The street in front of the police station began filling up with well-dressed white people, men, women and children. Young men across the street were eyeing the station.
6.00pm: The evening newspaper came out. It quoted Tusken’s doctor:
I believe she is suffering more from nervous exhaustion than anything else.
7.30pm: Men started throwing bricks at the police station, breaking windows. As one of them put it:
We’re talking about a White American girl getting raped by Black savages and left for dead. What if that girl was your wife or daughter? What would you do? Let’s stop yakking!
8.30pm: With the police chief out of the town, the Commissioner of Public Safety took charge and ordered the police not to shoot:
I do not want to see the blood of one White person spilled for six Blacks.
The mob stormed the station.
11.00pm: With the jail now smashed open, they took out the suspects one by one and brought them up a hill to the lamppost at Second Avenue East and First Street. White men beat them, white women kicked them and stepped on them with high-heel shoes. At the lamppost they hanged them.
The mob was yelling, chanting, cheering, singing, laughing.
Blacks in town had put their children to bed early. They sat in darkened living rooms, some with guns ready. No one could eat or sleep. You could hear the lynch mob a mile away.
At nearly midnight, with three suspects hanged and three still to go, the police chief arrived back in town. He ordered the police to use guns to restore order. The mob broke up and went home, the three dead black men twisting in the wind, ropes creaking.
No one was ever punished for the murders.
In 2003 three statues were put up in memory of McGhie, Jackson and Clayton.
Source: Michael Fedo, “Lynchings in Duluth” (2000)
- Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” (1965) starts with “They’re selling postcards of the hanging” and speaks of a blind commissioner. Dylan’s father was nine at the time and lived two blocks away.
- Sinclair Lewis’s “Kingsblood Royal” (1947) – has a story of the lynching. Lewis lived in Duluth in the 1940s and talked to blacks who remembered the lynching.
- University of Minnesota blackface video - also from Duluth, in 2012
- phantom black assailants
- The pure white woman stereotype
- black rape statistics
- Emmett Till
- C.J. Miller
- Ida B. Wells
- The police