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A piece of Duluth will form part of national lynchings memorial

Soil was collected at a ceremony on Sunday.
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A somber occasion in Duluth saw members of the city's black community remove soil that will form part of a national memorial to victims of lynchings.

Members of the Duluth NAACP branch were joined by more than 100 people at a ceremony at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial on Sunday, collecting Minnesota's contribution to the first-ever national lynchings memorial planned for Montgomery, Alabama.

They took soil from the memorial commemorating Minnesota's only recorded lynchings, which happened in 1920 and saw circus workers Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie dragged from jail, beaten and hanged on a light post.

In attendance at the Sunday ceremony was the Equal Justice Initiative of Montgomery, which is traveling the country to collect soil samples from lynching sites across the country that will be displayed in a museum in Alabama, according to a press release from Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial Inc.

A jar of soil was taken for each of the three victims, with the Duluth News Tribune reporting an Anishinaabe honor song was sung as the ceremony was carried out.

Soil from around 400 lynching sites are expected to be featured in the new, 11,000-square foot facility in Alabama, with Duluth NAACP president Stephan Witherspoon telling the newspaper it's right to honor those who "died for no reason."

What happened in Duluth?

The lynchings in 1920 Duluth followed an accusation of rape by 19-year-old circus-goer Irene Tusken, who according to the Minnesota Historical Society said she had been held up at gunpoint and sexually assaulted while with her male friend, James Sullivan.

Tusken's father called police the next day, saying six black circus workers were behind it, despite little evidence being found by the family doctor that she had been raped.

Six black people were immediately arrested by Duluth police and held in the city jail, while a white mob of between 1,000 and 10,000 people formed outside on Superior Street.

With police instructed not to use their guns, the mob wielding bricks, rails and bats forced their way into the jail, pulling all six men from the jail.

A "hasty mock trial" was convened and found Clayton, Jackson and McGhie guilty. They were taken to a light pole on the corner of 1st Strett and 2nd Avenue East, where they were beaten and lynched.

Officials later conceded there was no evidence the assault they were blamed for actually happened. A memorial to the trio was built in Duluth in 2003.

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