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Put ideas into action by supporting Human Rights Office

Tomorrow at noon, the annual Day of Remembrance will be observed at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial in downtown Duluth. Poets, musicians and residents will join the memorial's board of directors to honor the lives of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jack...

Tomorrow at noon, the annual Day of Remembrance will be observed at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial in downtown Duluth. Poets, musicians and residents will join the memorial's board of directors to honor the lives of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie, three young black men who were hanged in 1920 from a lamp post at First Street and Second Avenue East for a crime they didn't commit while a mob of thousands stood by and watched.

The memorial stands at the same intersection, placed there intentionally in the hope of converting a site of terror and tragedy to a haven for reflection and reconciliation.

As we remember these men on the 88th anniversary of their deaths, it is important for us to consider what we can still learn from this painful piece of Duluth's history. We must ask ourselves if there are times today when we stand by and permit discrimination to occur and racism to operate without comment or intervention.

The city administration recently proposed covering a $4.4 million shortfall by making deep cuts, including closing the city's Human Rights Office. Will we as a community stand by and let this happen? Or will we unite to support a program that protects the rights of all, regardless of race? 

The Human Rights Office represents a public trust and a statement that our community places a priority on taking a stand against discrimination and racism. It provides a crucial voice for community members who feel their human rights have been violated. It gives them recourse.

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Will we stand by and close the door on this public trust and on those whose lives are deeply affected by inequities entrenched in our society? Will we tell them that we're sorry, but justice will have to take a back seat to government issues that are more important?

As we honor Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie this June 16, the Day of Remembrance, we need to ask ourselves these tough questions. What will our answers be? On this day, we have an opportunity to make amends for our past by speaking out in support of keeping the Human Rights Office open, a declaration to all that Duluth is committed to protecting the rights and dignity of every one of its residents.

GAIL SCHOENFELDER is co-chairwoman and MAUREEN BOOTH is a board member of Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial Inc.

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