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Our view: Recall, learn from Duluth’s darkest day

There are spots in this world, retired Duluth District Court Judge Carol Person wrote two summers ago, that are at the same time places of horror and consecration, of injustice and justice, and of death and hope.

“Something draws us,” Person wrote in a stirring commentary for the News Tribune Opinion page. “We stand and look and think of man’s seemingly endless cruelty. And then as we stand there our eyes are drawn to symbols of reconciliation and hope. These memorials give us the inspiration to go forward, knowing that men and women are capable of terrible cruelty but also capable of confession and atonement and change and justice.”

She listed places like the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., the Peace Bell in Hiroshima, and the Srebenica memorial.

To those she added a spot in Duluth that’s at the same time hallowed and shamed: the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial at the same Second Avenue East and First Street intersection where, 94 years ago yesterday, three circus workers were lynched after being falsely accused of rape, torn from their jail cells and beaten and dragged. Their only crime: being black.

The memorial to the three victims — Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie — opened in 2003. Just last week the memorial was bestowed the status and respect it deserves when the Duluth City Council voted to designate it a Heritage Preservation Landmark in our city.

“(At the memorial) we come face to face with the darkest day in Duluth’s history,” Person said. “It is a mark of maturity that this community does not flinch from it or minimize it. We acknowledge it in all its horror. And we show the wisdom to erect the memorial as a tangible sign of our grief, our atonement, our hope.”

An annual remembrance at the memorial continues today. By participating each one of us can help to acknowledge that grief and to urge along that hope. A program starts at noon followed by a reception from 1-3 p.m. at the nearby Building for Women, 32 E. First St. At 6:30 p.m., at Fitger’s, the book “The Ku Klux Klan in Minnesota” will be discussed, followed by a book signing with its author, Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle.

Every year there are those who question why we take this moment, why we keep recalling such a horrific event. If the query is raised again today, say that it’s because we learn so much from both our triumphs and our mistakes, because we make decisions today based on the good and the bad of our yesterdays, and because we understand how important it is to know who we are and from where we came; then we can work more effectively together to become the community for which all of us wishes.

Disclosure: News Tribune Editorial Page Editor Chuck Frederick is a Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial board member.