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The Duluth Lynchings

In this series, we will look back at one of Duluth, Minnesota’s dark moments in history, a time when an estimated 10,000 people participated in or were witness to a hate crime — then basically didn’t talk about it again publicly for more than 60 years. The Duluth Lynchings is produced by the Duluth News Tribune's Christa Lawler and Samantha Erkkila, with reporting by our newsroom staff. Music "We Three Kings" is composed by Jean “Rudy” Perrault and performed by the Gichigami Piano Trio. *A warning to listeners: Some episodes might have unsettling imagery or language. 

Latest Episodes
6. 'Walk with me'
Mon Jun 15 01:00:00 EDT 2020
Three to four times a year, the city’s human rights officer Carl Crawford offers a Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial tour that starts in downtown Duluth near the site of the old jail and ends at the spot where the men were killed by a lynch mob. While Minnesotans were sheltering in place, Crawford offered his tour virtually.

“I want you to walk with me,” he says at the start. “I want you to close your eyes and open your hearts. I want you to go back when you had your first job. Your first experience of working. And I want you to walk with me now as we turn the corner to the memorial, but as you do so I want you to do it in silence. I want you to feel that alone. That loneliness that those boys felt. As they were marched up that hill.”

The Duluth Lynchings is edited by Samantha Erkkila and is a product of the Duluth News Tribune. This episode includes reporting by Samantha Erkkila and Christa Lawler.

Music for the podcast is “We Three Kings,” composed by “Rudy” Perrault and performed by the Gichigami Piano Trio with Josh Aerie on cello, Sam Black on piano and Laurie Bastian on Violin.

5. 'We have a lot of work to do'
Thu Jun 11 01:00:00 EDT 2020
In the post-lynching period, Duluth’s already small number of African Americans grew smaller — and has never grown to more than 3 percent of the city’s population. Jeanine Weekes Schroer, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota Duluth called Duluth a “sundown town” — a place where its lack of diversity seems accidental, but can be tied to historic events. While creating this podcast, multiple racially-motivated events happened in the United States — and as close as Minneapolis, where George Floyd died after a police officer detained him by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

“I think lynchings happen today all the time,” Weekes Schroer said. “That is to say, the practice of white people who take themselves to be acting with moral authority, ending the lives of brown and black people that in ways, that in retrospect, or even at the moment in the eyes of everyone else involved seem clearly to be the opposite of carrying out of justice — seem clearly to be to the rest of us violations of justice.”

The Duluth Lynchings is edited by Samantha Erkkila and is a product of the Duluth News Tribune. This episode includes reporting by Samantha Erkkila, Brady Slater, Melinda Lavine, Christa Lawler and Clint Austin. Excerpts of books and newspapers are read aloud by Barrett Chase.

Music for the podcast is “We Three Kings,” composed by “Rudy” Perrault and performed by the Gichigami Piano Trio with Josh Aerie on cello, Sam Black on piano and Laurie Bastian on Violin.

4. 'It was just gone'
Thu Jun 04 01:00:00 EDT 2020
In the decades following the lynching deaths of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie, no one really talked about it. Then Michael Fedo, a Duluth native, started writing a novel set in Northern Minnesota in the years following World War I. He recalled that his mother had once mentioned the lynchings, but the details and context of the conversation were gone. Fedo began digging and found not just silence, but in some cases a concerted effort to suppress details about the events of June 15, 1920. Fedo's book started a sort of information relay that led to developing proper grave markers and ultimately creating a memorial near the spot where the men were murdered.

The Duluth Lynchings is edited by Samantha Erkkila and is a product of the Duluth News Tribune. This episode includes reporting by Samantha Erkkila, Jimmy Lovrien, Brady Slater, Melinda Lavine and Christa Lawler. Excerpts of books and newspapers are read aloud by Barrett Chase.

Music for the podcast is “We Three Kings,” composed by Rudy Perrault and performed by the Gichigami Piano Trio with Josh Aerie on cello, Sam Black on piano and Laurie Bastian on Violin.

3. 'The past isn't the past'
Thu May 28 01:00:00 EDT 2020
Duluth’s police chief Mike Tusken was working a patrol shift about 20 years ago when his mother called him with news: A decades old family secret was about to be made public. It was his great aunt, Irene Tusken — whose name had long been kept out of the public record — who was behind the rape allegations that led to the Duluth lynchings. He’s not the only person to be surprised with the news that a beloved relative was a part of Duluth’s darkest day — and he’s not the only one to talk publicly about what it means. Warren Read, a writer from Washington, was working on his genealogy when he discovered that his great-grandfather was part of the mob.

“The past isn’t the past,” Read said. “It’s what we live today.”

The Duluth Lynchings is edited by Samantha Erkkila and is a product of the Duluth News Tribune. This episode includes reporting by Samantha Erkkila, Melinda Lavine, Kelly Bushe and Christa Lawler. Barrett Chase provides the newspaper accounts and excerpts from Michael Fedo’s book.

Music for the podcast is “We Three Kings,” composed by Jean “Rudy” Perrault and performed by the Gichigami Piano Trio with Josh Aerie on cello, Sam Black on piano and Laurie Bastian on violin.

2. June 15, 1920
Thu May 21 01:00:00 EDT 2020
On June 14, 1920, two Duluth teens claimed that they were held at gunpoint and assaulted by black workers from the John Robinson Circus. Word and aggression spread — helped along by a headline in the Duluth Herald — culminating in the lynching of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie in front of an estimated 10,000 people the following evening. Later it would be revealed that there was no evidence to indicate Irene Tusken had been raped. 

Journalist Jim Heffernan offers his mother and father’s family lore about that day; Writer and activist Heidi Bakk-Hansen considers the historical context of the headline and Duluth’s human rights officer Carl Crawford puts listeners at the scene in a recreation of the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial tour he gives a few times a year.

The Duluth Lynchings is edited by Samantha Erkkila and is a product of the Duluth News Tribune. This episode includes reporting by Samantha Erkkila, Adelie Bergstrom, Brady Slater, Kelly Bushe and Christa Lawler. Barrett Chase provides the newspaper accounts and excerpts from Michael Fedo’s book. 

Music for the podcast is “We Three Kings,” composed by “Rudy” Perrault and performed by the Gichigami Piano Trio with Josh Aerie on cello, Sam Black on piano and Laurie Bastian on Violin. 

1. 'The Circus is Here'
Thu May 14 01:00:00 EDT 2020
Duluth, Minnesota has had booming periods of greatness and times when it looked like the whole city might be canceled. Tony Dierckins, an author who has written extensively about Duluth’s history, sets the scene for the state of the city going into the 1920 lynchings of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie. Heidi Bakk-Hansen, a writer and activist, puts it into context considering the race riots of the previous year, dubbed Red Summer. Duluth might have been primed for a major racial event when the John Robinson Circus pulled into town on June 14, 1920.

For an episode guide, which includes links to sources and visuals, go to duluthnewstribune.com.

Trailer: The Duluth Lynchings
Tue May 05 14:26:21 EDT 2020
On June 15, 1920, three black circus workers, Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie, were wrongfully accused of sexual assault and murdered by a mob.

In this six-part series, we will look back at one of Duluth, Minnesota’s dark moments in history, a time when an estimated 10,000 people participated in or were witness to a hate crime — then didn’t talk about it again publicly for more than 60 years. 

The Duluth Lynchings is produced by the Duluth News Tribune's Christa Lawler and Samantha Erkkila, with reporting by our newsroom staff.

*A warning to listeners: Some episodes might have unsettling imagery or language.