Special Report: CJM 100 Years Later

Updated: February 24, 2020 06:25 PM

It was supposed to be a fun time in Duluth. June 14, 1920, a circus came to town. The set-up was at Wheeler Field in West Duluth.


But afterwards, things got really ugly. A handful of black circus workers were wrongly accused of rape and robbery.

They were hauled off to the jail downtown. An angry mob broke into the jail, and grabbed three of them. That mob served as judge and jury, and dragged the men up the block.

Beaten mentally and physically, their broken bodies ended up hanging off of a light pole.

Many of us know very little about Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie, other than their violent deaths. "We're remembering the past, in order to build the future," shared Jordon Moses, the CJM 2020 organizer. He's been living and breathing the anniversary events for about a year and a half. And it hasn't been easy.

"One of the most common responses we get, is well, that was 100 years ago. Really, that comes from a place of wanting to disassociate," he shared.

They want to connect people, by honoring a painful past with a willingness to transform the future. A future with more equality.

"The stats, the realities, the health care outcomes, the educational outcomes, all show that racism is alive and well," Moses added.

The idea for series of events to mark the men's deaths was born years ago. The first, was a screening of the film 'Just Mercy,' a major motion picture based on the book written by Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson described it as, "Our work for the past thirty years, challenging wrongful convictions and unfair sentences."

He is their keynote speaker in June. "He talks about remembrance, acknowledging the legacy of white supremacy, racial terror violence, in a way that most folks understand," Moses said of Stevenson.

There's also been some poetry readings. And in March, a concert titled, "And They Lynched Him on a Tree."

Musicians from over a dozen different organizations have been practicing the songs. "That was our intention. We would draw from a cross-section of musicians, in order to build community," explained Julia Cheng, concert organizer. This has been a dream of hers for years.

"We call this a concert of healing and atonement. Using art to draw people together. To remember what happened to those three innocent young men," Cheng added.

They all feel a sense of purpose. David Helf said, "When I heard about the concert, I felt it was almost my civic duty to participate." He's a bass in the chorus that will perform.

"The charge in our singing, is we cannot ever forget this. The healing starts at this point," Helf added.

A point that will culminate on June 15, 2020. The committee is looking at it as an end of one chapter, and the beginning of another. "Part of our long term vision is an interpretive center in our city," Moses said.

Because you can't re-write history. Only learn and grow from it.

"We are looking forward to the next 100 years. It's really about racial justice and building up our communities. Folks of color, and honoring them in a way we haven't before," Moses added.

You are being encouraged to register for tickets for the concert.

We have a link to the CJM 2020 page here:

Copyright 2020 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved


First Case of COVID-19 confirmed in Itasca County

St. Louis County reports its tenth case of COVID-19

Local Coronavirus Hotlines

Minnesota Power working to restore outages

Over 1,200 Lake Country Power customers in the dark

MN Department of Corrections response to COVID-19