Creation of the Memorial

History of the Creation of the Memorial

The construction of the CJM Memorial was the product of an increasing consciousness of the importance of this event to our community. In 1979 Michael Fedo wrote a book on the Lynching entitled “They was just Niggers”, a quote from one of the rioters in 1920. It was later re-titled “The Lynchings in Duluth” when republished first by NorShor Books and later by the Minnesota Historical Society. This book marked the first reflection on events.

The graves are marked

An effort began to find the unmarked graves of the victims of the lynchings. Craig Grau, Sociology professor at UMD led this investigation. Park Hill cemetery had interred the bodies in unmarked graves in 1920. First Lutheran Church helped finance the marking of the graves on October 26, 1991. Vigils began to be held at the intersection where the lynching occurred in the 1990’s. In June, 2000, Heidi Bakk-Hansen published an article about the lynching in The Ripsaw, a weekly newspaper in Duluth. The Vigil held that year generated talk about getting a plaque at the site of the lynching to commemorate the 3 young men. A meeting was scheduled and over 30 people attended.

A grassroots committee forms

A grassroots committee was formed to pursue this idea. Meetings began to be held on a regular basis. By 2001 Co-Chairs had been elected and voting rights were limited to people attending 3 meetings in a row. Grassroots meant no person or organization had a reserved seat on the Committee. You belonged by showing up and serving on sub-committees. People came together as persons interested in the issue, not from organizations. They saw this need for a Memorial as a “community” issue, not a race issue.

The committee finds a purpose

The purpose of the Committee initially was to facilitate the placement of a permanent memorial marker at the site where three young African-Americans were lynched in Duluth on June 15, 1920. It was acknowledged that the event’s historical significance and the memories of the men had not been recognized with the gravity or permanence they deserved. For example, there was no mention of it in any of the textbooks used by ISD 709, Duluth’s own school district! Apparently a plaque had been in the sidewalk at the shrine building which noted the event but the plaque disappeared in the 1990’s when the sidewalks were repaired. Committees were formed to advance the mission of the CJM Memorial Board: • Education-to develop a curriculum for schools on the Lynching; • Public Awareness- a speaker’s bureau to talk in the community about the lynching; • Fundraising to create scholarships for youngsters to attend post high school education.

These committee still exist to this day, continuing the work of the CJM Memorial Board.

The committee finds an inspiration: the Memorial Plaza idea

The vacant lot across Second Avenue East, kitty-corner from the lynching site, was owned by LaMarr advertising company. It was found to possibly be available for development. The Committee decided to consider something larger than a wall plaque. A new sub-committee was formed to pursue creating an actual Memorial/Monument. In the fall of 2001 this sub-committee met with the Public Arts Commission (PAC) to learn about Public Art. They worked with PAC to create a Request for Proposals (RFP) which went out nationwide to the Public Arts Commission’s standard mailing list as well as to lesser known artistic venues.

The Committee selects an Artists Design

17 Proposals came in by the December 13, 2001 deadline. By February 25, 2002 artist Carla Stetson ( and writer Anthony Porter’s proposal was selected. Now the grassroots Clayton Jackson McGhie committee had to reorganize itself to raise the money and build the Memorial. Other tasks were put ‘on hold’; fundraising and building the Memorial became the priority. Two members of the Committee, Jill Caraway and Richard Dolezal volunteered to work with the artists and coordinate with them the actual physical creation of the Memorial. Everyone else set out to raise the $150,000 dollars budgeted to create the Memorial.

The Community builds the Memorial

According to Stetson and Porter, the design for the Memorial would stimulate reflection and discussion. The writings and the visual language would be linked to produce a powerful message of equality and understanding. Using their sensitive vision for a public space that could promote reconciliation and build bridges, Stetson and Porter signed a contract with the Public Arts Commission. Porter contacted area Tribes and writers seeking input on his choice of quotes. Stetson used 3 young area men as her models when she created the wax models of Clayton, Jackson, and McGhie. She began this work in May of 2002, and by September the bronze castings were being completed by American Bronze of Osceola, Wisconsin. Artstone of New Ulm, Minnesota poured the walls in the spring of 2003.

The City of Duluth bid the site preparation and bids were opened on May 3, 2003. June 3, 2003 was groundbreaking for site preparation. The walls were installed on July 8, 2003. The pavers were laid in September on two successive weekends by volunteers working under the direction of a paid paver. The Memorial was dedicated on October 10, 2003 with a crowd estimated to be over 3000.

The Memorial was paid for within 6 months of its Dedication. Funding was almost completely local, with banks, Faith Communities, schools and local citizens contributing the vast majority of the money. Though the Memorial has been completes, the mission of the CJMM Board is not. The continuing work of raising awareness of issues of racism in our communities continues through educational outreach, community forums, and scholarship opportunities for youth.

[The above was written by Dick Dolezal, founding member of CJMM]