More than 80 years ago, a White woman accused three young Black circus workers of raping her - not in Natchez, Mississippi, but Duluth, Minnesota. Subsequently, a mob of 5,000-10,000 men, women, and children terrorized the three descendants of enslaved Africans, leaving their bodies to dangle from downtown lampposts.
At the lynching, photographers took pictures of the three victims: 19-year-old Elias Clayton, 19-year-old Elmer Jackson, and 20-year-old Isaac McGhie. From pictures taken by photographers at the atrocity, the townspeople made postcards and sent them to their friends.
Duluth is a small city nestled on the tip of Lake Superior, populated mostly by descendants of German and Scandinavian immigrants. Few African-Americans lived in Duluth at the time of the murders and only a small percentage live there now.
Today, unlike most other American jurisdictions, the city of Duluth is dealing with its past. The city has contributed $71,000 to commemorate the lives of the three men and sound a call for compassion, reconciliation, and racial harmony. According to the Commemorative Committee's co-chair, Henry Banks, "Other communities across America are looking to Duluth and Duluth is leading the way."
The Commemoration Committee had sculptor Carla Stetson and writer Anthony Peyton Porter design the monument that features three larger-than-life sculpted figures cast in bronze, representing Clayton, Jackson, and McGhie. They will inscribe the walls of the monument with provocative quotations from writers who lived in ancient to modern times. The quotes will deal with such themes as the oneness of humanity. The monument will include a small park.
In an interview with Port of Harlem, Porter says that the memorial pleases him. "It does recognize, in a fairly small way, our humanity, our common humanity," he says. However, he hopes that the memorial will provoke people to question their own participation in self-righteous activities. He continued, "Simply by isolating this incident, I think, misses opportunities to connect these murders with murders all over the world that are still going on now - - from the one in Texas a couple of years ago [of James Byrd] to the one that is likely to be next month."
The activists spearheading the construction of The Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial are seeking an additional $147,000 to complete the park by September 2003.