Three years ago, Virginia Huston of Marshall, Mo., got a phone call.
An author was doing research for a book, he said. Did Huston know she was a relative of one of three black man lynched by a white mob in Duluth in 1920?
Huston, 63, had never known what had happened to her cousin, Elmer Jackson.
"They never talked much about Elmer -- I guess that's why," Huston said in a phone interview.
The author was Warren Read, 41, of Kingston, Wash. He was working on his book "The Lyncher In Me" about his discovery that he is related to Louis Dondino, one of the mob organizers.
Today, Huston and Read will participate in events to commemorate the June 1920 lynching of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie, black circus workers who had been wrongly accused of raping a white woman.
Gail Schoenfelder, a member of the memorial's board of directors, said this is the first known time a relative of one of the lynching victims has come to Duluth.
"It's an opportunity for the community and us involved with the organization to fulfill the intent of the memorial, which is for reconciliation and atonement with the past," Schoenfelder said. "To have them both here brings the mission and the whole purpose of the memorial to light."
Not much is known about the families of Clayton and McGhie, Schoenfelder said. No one has been able to find any of their relatives.
At noon Monday, Huston and Read will be among people gathering for a program at the memorial site on the corner of First Street and Second Avenue East.
Then at 6:30 p.m., they'll plant a tree near the gravesites of Clayton, Jackson and McGhie at Park Hill Cemetery, 2500 Vermillion Road. The tree is a three-year-old black oak Read grew from acorns Huston sent him from a tree that grows in the churchyard of Elmer Jackson's hometown of Pennytown, Mo.
Huston seems to have accepted Jackson's fate calmly, but with a resolution that it will be used to discourage further racial discord. During their first phone call and in subsequent conversations, she told Read that Jackson's death needed to be something future generations learn from.
"I told him that history needs to be told," she said. "Black history is not in the history books; we need to preserve our heritage."
"It wasn't so much about the lynchings specifically," Read said. "It was more about the ugliness in our past as it relates to race relations. She said, and these were her words, 'People want to sweep things under the rug.' "
Huston has never been to Duluth before and hopes today's events help "mend things."
"I would like to be unified ... more aware of what happened in the past, but not letting the past keep us from growing as people and as citizens," she said.
Will Ashenmacher is a general assignment reporter at the News Tribune. He can be reached weeknights at (218) 723-5218 or at washenmacher@duluth news.com.