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Another thing I guess I’ll never forget
is when the forest fires — when the lynching occurred
in Duluth. That was 1920.
. . . My father had had me join him in a
trip south in 1919. We were gone for about four months. And
in talking to the people in the South, he was trying to encourage
young people to come north, to go North and go to school and
he had a way of saying how white people don’t favor
you, it isn’t that they like you, but you’ll be
sure of a fair trial. That’s one thing you’ll
be sure of, you can get a fair trial. So this particular day
I went to the post office to pick up the mail as we always
did after the limited train came in and no one spoke to me.
. . . I thought it was queer because by
this time I had been there — I’d been there over
a year and people had a way of saying good morning and when
I got to the post office, they — the postmaster would
joke about the amount of mail I got personally because I had
been on this trip and there was a lot of people writing me.
And I didn’t know what it was. I went back to the office
and my boss was on the phone with Duluth, and he swung around
and he said, “There’s terrible trouble in Duluth.
They’re calling out the National Guard.” And I
asked why and he said, “It’s a race riot.”
And I couldn’t imagine that because knowing the Negroes
in Duluth they’re not that militant sort. But then he
said then that they’ve lynched some Negroes. Well, I
couldn’t reach my folks by phone and so I went through
that day and then I realized what it was, the animosity in
the town [Moose Lake]. That the feeling of — their reaction
seemed to be that they would have liked to have been in on
the lynching party.
. . .My father was furious about it —
of course he was very upset, particularly because it was happening
about four blocks from our home, outside the Shrine Temple,
and as he walked down the hill that next morning to work the
bodies had been cut down and were lying there at the foot
of this telegraph post. And there was a circus in town and
fourteen Negroes were taken off a train that was ready to
pull out with all the circus paraphernalia late that night.
And this white girl claimed that she had been raped by fourteen
Negroes and she’s supposed to have identified these
four. They had a kangaroo court. The Chief of Police was out
of town; the mayor was out of town. And I understand that
they got their necktie party up by parading up and down the
main street, and no one stopped them. No one seemed to. .
. But I know that it was one of the things that my father
deplored because he went out hunting and had shotgun, rifle
and different things. And he always kept them ready; they
always — and I know that if he had had any inkling of
it he would have tried to have done something about it. And
I think he felt cheated in a way.
. . . One good thing that developed. There
were a few white people who wrote letters to the newspaper
deploring it and my father was able to start an NAACP branch.
He had tried before but the Negroes weren’t interested
and they said that he was trying to segregate them. Because
we have no trouble here in Duluth, so we don’t need
an NAACP branch. But he had no trouble after this happened.
And he brought — our first speaker that he brought was
Dr. Du Bois.