It's been nearly 100 years since an estimated 10,000 Duluthians crowded downtown and either directly participated in or were witness to the murder of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie, black circus workers accused of raping a West Duluth woman.
The Duluth News Tribune is producing a six-part podcast, "The Duluth Lynchings," a series that looks into the racial tensions, shady politics, and unpredictable natural forces leading up to the murders and the aftermath — or lack thereof. The first episode, "The Circus is Here," is available at duluthnewstribune.com, in addition to podcast streaming services like Spotify and iTunes. There will be a new episode each week leading up to the the anniversary of the lynchings, June 15.
"The Duluth Lynchings" includes interviews with more than a dozen sources including Michael Fedo, who is, so far, the only person to write a book about the topic, and Heidi Bakk-Hansen, whose 2000 Ripsaw article about the lynchings is widely credited with bringing a long-silenced topic back to the forefront.
During a seven-month span the previous year, dubbed "Red Summer," there were an estimated 25 riots and nearly 100 lynchings across the country. Bakk-Hansen said Duluth was primed to participate.
"The word trend doesn't seem to work, but I think that they've watched this happening all over the country," she says in an episode. "So now it's our turn. We're going to show them what happens to black men who rape. And there is no question about whether it's true or not because no girl would lie about something like that."
There are also conversations with descendants of the lynched, the lynchers and Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken, whose great-aunt Irene Tusken alleged that she had been raped by the employees of the John Robinson Circus.