Lynching Memorials: Overview of Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial

July 22, 2009 at 6:34 pm 2 comments

Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, Duluth, Minnesota – July 2009

Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, photo by author, 7-09

Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, photo by author, 7-09

On July 13th and 14th I visited the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial (CJMM) in Duluth, Minnesota.  The memorial focuses on the lynching of three African American men Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie who were lynched in Duluth, Minnesota on June 15, 1920.

Brief description of the lynching – Accused of sexually assaulting a young white woman, Irene Tusken, the men, traveling circus workers were being held in the city jail.  As news of the alleged crime spread, white citizens formed a lynch mob of thousands.  Mob members abducted the men from the jail, held a mock trial, pronounced the men guilty, and forced the men to march through the city streets.  The men were viciously beaten and then hanged from a streetlamp.

After the lynching, charges were brought against thirty-seven mob members. Twelve were charged with murdering the three black men and twenty-five were accused of rioting. However, the murder cases were never brought to trial.  Two of the men accused of rioting, Henry Stephenson and Louis Dondino, were found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison.  After serving a couple of years of their terms they were both released.
Most of the city’s black citizens moved away after the lynching.
Scholars now believe that Irene Tusken made a false allegation against the circus workers.

In 2000 a diverse group of Duluth citizens decided that it was time to make this history known. They formed a memorial board- the Clayton, Jackson, McGhie Committee. They earned support from the mayor and raised funds to have the memorial built.  Three years later the structure was unveiled.  Located on the corner of Second Avenue East and First Street, diagonally across from the actual lynching site, the memorial consists of two walls in a v-shape configuration. The sculptural bronze relief of the three lynched men is accompanied by a historical account. The walls also contain inscribed quotations from various cultural leaders.

Closeup of Sculptures, Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, photo by author, 7-09

Closeup of Sculptures, Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, photo by author, 7-09

Small plantings are located in the center of the space.  There is no seating available at the site so visitors have to stand when viewing the memorial.

I learned of this memorial when I was doing research for my master’s thesis, Landscapes Interrupted: A Study of the Without Sanctuary Lynching Postcards.  In my essay I argued that lynching postcards both signify and obscure aspects of place through image, inscription, and the spatial practices associated with postcards.

The book Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America contains reproductions of the photographic postcards that were made of the Duluth lynching. (See plates 28-30 for the images.)  Similar to other lynchings, a photographer was on the scene at the Duluth lynching to take pictures and make postcards.  Postcards were often sold at lynchings to members of the mob.  These cards were also often available at local retail stores.

In the recent past various cities have initiated efforts to recognize lynching violence.  Some communities have held gatherings to read resolutions aloud or to unveil roadside historical markers.  However, the Duluth memorial is unlike these other commemorative practices. Most significantly, it includes figurative sculptures of the lynched men and places the story of the lynching in a larger, universal narrative about social injustice.  Additionally, a yearly “Day of Remembrance” ritual is held on the anniversary of the lynching, a college scholarship in the name of the lynched men is available to Duluth high school graduates, and the lynching history has been added to the area school curriculum.

While I was in Duluth I interviewed several members of the memorial board, a journalist, and a school teacher about their roles in the creation of the memorial.

In the next few weeks I’ll be interviewing a Duluth student and hopefully the two artists who created the memorial.

For more information about the Duluth lynchings see:

Bakk-Hansen. “Duluth’s Lingering Shame.” Ripsaw, June 7, 2ooo.

Fedo, Michael. The Lynchings in Duluth. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Press, 2000.

Green, William D. “To Remove the Stain: The Trial of the Duluth Lynchers.” Minnesota History, 59/1 Spring 2004: 22-35.”

Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial website: http://claytonjacksonmcghie.org

If you have any information on the lynchings in Duluth, Waco, or Coatesville which you would like to share, please submit it through the comments section.

La Tanya S. Autry

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Entry filed under: Lynching, Public Space. Tags: .

Lynching Memorials: Project Description Why Lynching?

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. kingstonguy  |  November 20, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    Hi La Tanya,

    Came across this posting on a search related to my own work. My name is Warren Read, and I’m the great-grandson of Louis Dondino. I’ve written a memoir about this event, and the effect this discovery had on my family. I also was able to uncover material about the victims of the lynchings. Feel free to contact me if you like.

    Reply
    • 2. artstuffmatters  |  April 17, 2010 at 12:29 am

      Hi Mr. Read, Thanks for writing to the blog. I have your book here on my desk. It’s been an important part of my research. The memorial board members in Duluth suggested that I read it. I think I’ll keep working on this material so I’d definitely like to contact you in the future. Thank you!

      Reply

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Artstuffmatters focuses on public culture in the arts- public art, photography, landscapes, museums, and more.

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