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Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial hosts gathering of remembrance, reflection

Over 50 people gathered downtown on Wednesday as Duluth marked 102 years since the lynching of three Black men.

Roger Gregoire, left, stands next to Kim Green as she welcomes the crowd at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial
Rogier Gregoire, left, stands next to Kim Green as she welcomes the crowd at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial for a ceremony at the corner of East First Street and North Second Avenue East in Duluth on Wednesday. Both Gregoire and Green are Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial board members.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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DULUTH — Several dozen people gathered Wednesday at noon at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial for an observance of the date marking 102 years since three Black men were lynched on the downtown site.

The nonprofit organization associated with the memorial organized the event, presenting a 30-minute program of music, spoken word and scholarship announcements. The event served as a reminder of past racial violence, a call to clearly perceive injustice in the present day, and an expression of hope for the future.

Xzavion Hayes reads a piece from their phone during the ceremony at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial
Xzavion Hayes reads a poem from a phone during the ceremony at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

"Duluth is no longer a safe place to be," said spoken word artist Xzavion Hayes in a poem called "Superstition." The poem seemed to allude to the family link between Irene Tusken — the white woman whose false claim of rape gave rise to the 1920 lynchings — and her great-nephew, Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken.

Another spoken word performer, Jes-wa' Harris, spoke directly to the late Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie. "I heard you and I'm listening," said Harris, though prefacing his piece with the observation that "I was hoping there'd be more babies here."

Supporting today's youth was a central theme of the event, which included the naming of two recent high school graduates who will receive scholarships from a fund created by the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial Committee.

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Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial scholarship recipient, Qasim Mujteba, speaks during the ceremony
Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial scholarship recipient Qasim Mujteba speaks during the ceremony.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Syrena Richard, a 2022 Denfeld High School graduate, "challenged racist attitudes" in her community, said scholarship committee chair Lynn Goerdt. Another scholarship recipient, 2022 Duluth East High School graduate Qasim Mujteba, said he wants to work to fight inequity in the American health care system.

"I'm a first generation Pakistani American and a Muslim," said Mujteba, who recounted that when he sought therapy, he discovered "a lack of diversity and lack of cultures that are represented within the therapists' field."

To applause, Mujteba asked, "How is someone supposed to give me comprehensive care if they cannot comprehend what I've gone through to reach the point that I'm at?"

William Wright plays his saxophone during a ceremony at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial
William Wright plays his saxophone during a ceremony at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Saxophonist William Wright and percussionist Jimmy Hill provided a musical interlude, with Wright encouraging the crowd to chant, "We've got to have freedom, we've got have peace and love" as he played.

"The brothers didn't have no peace," said Wright, indicating the lynching victims. "Their spirits don't have no peace. There was no love, OK, and definitely was no freedom."

"I ask you to remember one thing only," said Rogier Gregoire, a Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial board member who concluded the program on a note of hope. "Love is a source of truth. ... When you find love in your heart, no matter who you love, you benefit first."

Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial board member Roger Gregoire speaks about loving one another during his closing remarks
Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial board member Rogier Gregoire speaks about loving one another during his closing remarks of the ceremony.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

The gathering was one of several events marking the date, starting with a Tuesday memorial service at the victims' Park Hill Cemetery gravesite and set to continue with a Wednesday evening service of remembrance at First Lutheran Church.

Duluth, Superior and Grand Rapids will all host events on the weekend of what's now a official federal holiday.

The remembrance events were linked to the upcoming Juneteenth; celebrated on June 19, with local events over the weekend in Duluth, Superior and Grand Rapids.

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"This is the first year that Juneteenth will be a federal holiday," said Green at the Wednesday afternoon gathering. "That's good news."

Green closed the program with a reminder: "Don't forget! Same time, same place next year. Bring a friend next time, will you?"

Jes-wa' Harris recites a spoken word piece at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial
Jes-wa' Harris recites a spoken word piece at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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