Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial to be designated Heritage Preservation Landmark
June 9, 2014
Updated Jun 9, 2014 at 11:11 PM CDT
Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) – The Duluth City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Monday night designating the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial a city Heritage Preservation Landmark.
The Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial was built in 2003 to remember the lives lost June 15, 1920 after a mob of thousands accused three black men of raping a woman in Duluth.
Click here to subscribe to our daily newsletter.
The mob assembled in West Duluth where they continued to beat and strangle the three men until lynching them across the street from the CJM Memorial.
"It's a painful history, but it's important for us to own that history and to reconcile that history and to try and take that story and learn from it and then move on in a positive light," said Jodi Broadwell, the chair of the memorial committee.
With Monday's vote, the memorial will go on the register of local landmarks which will help preserve the structure.
Written by Kevin Jacobsen
Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial commemorates the 1920 Duluth lynchings
Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial
Photo Credit: Samantha Lefebvre
“An event has happened, upon which it is difficult to speak and impossible to ignore.” These words, originally spoken by Edmund Burke in 1729, now adorn a tall concrete L-shaped monument in downtown Duluth. Anthony Peyton Porter chose this quote to commemorate the unjust deaths of three African-Americans in 1920.
Porter, a writer now living in California, along the sculptor, Carla Stetson, created the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, which stands across the street from the lamppost where the three men were hung years ago. The CJM Memorial was officially unveiled on Oct.10, 2003.
Porter sifted through quote books, searched the Internet and asked others what they felt was important to include on the monument. Eventually, fourteen quotes were chosen, including passages from Oscar Wilde, Albert Einstein, Siddhartha Gautama, Martin Luther King Jr., and Porter’s favorite, Jalaluddin Rumi.
“I tried to get a wide variety of people, with different backgrounds and cultures,” Porter said.
Porter added some historical text next to the bronze castings of the three men. Not a single one of the quotes on the memorial has anything to do with race.
“Although it was superficially a racial incident I thought that was really just a detail. It was just another example of the things that people do to each other,” Porter said.
According to an article in the Mississippi Quarterly, of the 10,000 people in the lynch mob, only three were arrested for their actions. None of them were charged with murder. The article said that the men served less than 15 months in jail for rioting. One of the three men arrested was a man named Louis Dondino. When Dondino’s great-grandson, Warren Read, heard about the CJM Committee and the memorial they were planning, Read wanted to help. He was invited to speak at the memorial’s unveiling. Read explained that the memorial brought great comfort to him and his family.
“It’s an aggressive, prominent memorial. It’s not abashed about what it’s trying to say,” Read said.
Read said the memorial is powerful and brave, and has helped put his mind at ease. He also talked about how the memorial conveys a message about taking responsibility instead of placing blame.
“It’s a step in an ongoing journey. The memorial is a model about the things you can do to start a conversation and to encourage atonement,” Read said.
According to Porter, the memorial isn’t meant to be a commentary on race, it’s a statement about our overall oneness. The memorial captures just a single moment in an ongoing attempt to eliminate hate and encourage unity.
Family discovers its hidden connection to 1920 Duluth lynchings
Warren Read, from Kingston, Wash., came across an article in the Duluth Ripsaw a few years ago that changed everything he knew about his family. While reading the article, written by Heidi Bakk-Hansen, he discovered something about his great-grandfather, Louis Dondino.
“It had his name, age and location and I was pretty sure that it was him,” Read said. “The more I read, it pointed out it was my great-grandfather.”
The article was about the lynching of three African-Americans that took place in Duluth in 1920. Read had no idea about his great-grandfather’s involvement until he read the article. Once he saw Dondino’s name, he wanted to know more.
“I got the court transcripts, I got all my great-grandfather’s prison records, and parole records, so most of it was just to figure out just how involved he was,” Read said.
Read sifted through the documents and pieced together the story of his great-grandfather’s participation in the event.
“Witnesses had him in front of the jail confronting the police,” Read said. “No one put him in the jail cell or at the light post but that’s not to say that he wasn’t there.”
Read looked further into the event and discovered more from the documents he gathered.
“I know that he was driving a truck gathering people and I know that the rope being dragged behind the truck was the rope that was used for the hanging,” Read said. “He was whipping up a lot of frenzy outside. He was definitely a big part of the rioting.”
Dondino was one of three men in a mob of 10,000 who was convicted of a crime from that night. He went to jail for rioting, a sentence of approximately 15 months. Read speculated as to why his great-grandfather, out of such a vast group, was fingered for the crime.
Once Read had gathered all of this information and completed his research, he realized he was going to have to tell his family. He started with his mother, who had been very close with Dondino.“They knew that someone was going to have to be held accountable for what happened and I think they suspected that it would be easier to convict someone lower down on the socioeconomic scale,” Read said.
“She was definitely shocked,” Read said. “She was concerned about people thinking bad things about her grandfather, because she really held him up on a pedestal. What hit her the most was that something so hard to handle had been kept from her growing up.”
The realization of something so traumatic shook Read’s family. Everything his mother had known about her grandfather seemed distorted. Read explained that it was a real eye-opener. It told him a lot about the relationships amongst his family that came before him.
Though Read never actually met his great-grandfather, he felt he knew him through the stories his mother had told. Suddenly, things that hadn’t made sense before were coming to light.
“It explained some of the bitterness between my grandfather and great-grandfather that my mother never understood,” Read said. “It helped explain the dynamics of the relationship.”
The event that Dondino was involved in has echoed in the generations after him. Read wrote a book released in 2008 titled “The Lyncher in Me” to shed light on how the lynching affected his family and also to pay respect to the victims of the incident.
“My initial motivation for writing the book was just to get the perspective of our family,” Read said. “I wanted to show that someone who was involved in that event could come around and support that healing process.”
His great-grandfather’s past changed Read’s outlook on how to treat others.
“It made me try even harder to be a good father for my own kids,” Read said. “It made me recognize that everything we do effects generations after us.”
One of the intentions of the book was to show that there are two sides to every story. He wanted people to see that for evil to happen, there must be an evildoer who has a story of their own.
“Evil is not one-dimensional, it’s multifaceted. Anyone is capable of bad things given the right circumstances,” Read said.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11, 2014
A Few Thoughts About the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial
This past week I got into a discussion with a friend regarding Michael Fedo's book The Lynching In Duluth which led into talking about the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial. To my surprise he had fairly strong feelings against the memorial. When I asked why he said that things like this only foster hatred.
This reaction completely surprised me, but it showed clearly how the ideas, observations and conclusions we've come to in our own minds can often be completely at odds with where others are at. Once we recognize this, and hopefully when we are young, then we begin to recognize the value of dialogue, of listening and hearing.
Dialogue is one of those things that takes courage because there are so many barriers to communication, one of them being our own fear of rejection for ideas or feelings we might have. But dialogue is important, and essential to reconciliation. This is, I believe, one of the aims of the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, to foster dialogue that can lead to reconciliation and healing for our city.
|Police station, after it was over.|
This year marks the 94th anniversary of the tragedy that ended the lives of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie, three young African American men who were falsely accused, taken by a mob from the old Duluth jail on East Superior Street, and lynched at the intersection where the CJM Memorial now stands. The story of how this memorial came into being eleven years ago can be found here:www.claytonjacksonmcghie.org/CreationMemorial
The importance of remembering this event isn't just in regards to race relations, though there are many lessons there. I find it important because of what it teaches us about mobs, about mob violence and the importance of civil and civilized relations. I saw the power of a mob when I was in college, how emotions were stirred, how people were manipulated, and the subsequent damage. The breakdown of order into disorder takes people down strange paths. But let's not forget the racial component either.
All this to say that there are some events the CJMM Committee has announced for this week ahead.
• Sunday, June 15, 6PM, Park Hill Cemetery, 2500 Vermillion Rd — Join us a vigil at the gravesites of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie for a gathering that includes storytelling, ribbon tying, and laying of flowers.
• Monday, June 16, 12:00 PM, Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, First St & Second Ave E — Day of Remembrance: Building Trust within Communities
Community members will gather to honor the memory of the three young men who were lynched in 1920. Special guest speakers include: Mayor Don Ness, Natasha Lancour, and Stephan Witherspoon. Come and meet and hear from our 2014 Scholarship Recipient Taneasha Muonio, recent graduate of Duluth Denfeld High School heading to Augsberg College this fall.
• Monday, June 16, 1-3 PM, Building for Women, 32 E First St, Basement — Reception
Come see our board meeting space and enjoy some conversation and refreshments with us. We will be accepting donations at this time for our scholarship fund.
• Monday, June 15, 6-8:30 PM, Fitger’s Spirit of the North Theater and The Bookstore at Fitger’s, 600 E Superior St, 3rd Floor — Educational Event and Book Signing The Ku Klux Klan in Minnesota by Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle. Join us at 6:30pm for a Meet and Greet with the author, at 7pm there will be a book reading and Powerpoint Presentation tailored to Duluth, followed by a book signing by the author at the Bookstore at 7:30pm.
Read the full story here.
Around the turn of the last century, many white people in the United States were eager to draw a thick, bold line separating the races. Sometimes they drew the line in blood. The Tuskegee Institute recorded nearly 5,000 lynchings of black people between 1880 and 1930. Historians say there were thousands more.
Most lynchings happened in Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama – in the Deep South. So it was a shock when the headline, "Duluth Mob Lynches Three Negroes," ran in papers from the Duluth News-Tribune to the New York Times. But the story quickly faded from the news, and most people in Duluth were happy to forget the murders. Two generations of Minnesotans grew up knowing little or nothing about the lynching in Duluth.
June 15 is the anniversary of the lynching. A few years ago, a citizens group began a campaign to build a memorial to the lynching victims in downtown Duluth. That memorial is now in place, and is the focus of ceremonies in downtown Duluth to remember the event on this anniversary. Duluth has regained its memory.