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Duluth Lynchings Online Resource
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The Timeline details the series of events in the hours before, and immediately after, the lynching of three young black men — Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie — at the hands of an angry mob in downtown Duluth on June 15, 1920.



Advertisement in the Duluth Herald, June 10, 1920.
Advertisement in The Duluth Herald, June 10, 1920

At the Circus
June 14, 8:00 p.m. — Irene Tusken arrives at circus, meets Sullivan there

On a warm June evening, Irene Tusken arrives at the John Robinson Circus, meeting her friend James Sullivan. The circus, in Duluth for a one-day stop, is typical of its day — acrobats, tightrope walkers, and performing elephants and camels underneath colorful circus tents. Held at a park just off of a major streetcar route, the circus is a convenient location for Tusken and Sullivan to meet.

Photo of Visitors walking the circus grounds.
Visitors walking the circus grounds.

Alleged Rape
June 14, 9:45 p.m. — Circus Grounds - 39th Avenue & Third Street

Irene Tusken and James Sullivan walk to the rear of the main circus tent and watch as black laborers, employed by the circus, pack up equipment and tear down tents preparing for the circus to depart. What happens next remains unknown, but Tusken and Sullivan both later claim that six young black circus workers forced the couple to a deserted location and raped Tusken while Sullivan was held at gunpoint. It would later prove to be an unlikely story. Compelling evidence asserted no rape ever took place.

Photo of Missabe ore docks, Duluth.
Missabe ore docks, Duluth.

A Call to Police
June 15, 2:00 a.m. — Duluth, Missabe and Northern Ore Docks South of Downtown

After taking a roundabout and unhurried walk from the streetcar stop, Irene Tusken arrives at her house. She goes up to bed that evening without mentioning anything to her parents. At midnight, James Sullivan, a night worker at the Duluth, Missabe and Northern Ore Docks, reports for work. At 2:00 A.M., more than four hours after the alleged incident, he tells his father, a superintendent at the ore docks, the story of the rape. Around 3:00 A.M. Duluth Police Chief John Murphy receives a phone call from Sullivan's father reporting the allegation.

Photo of Police Chief Murphy
Chief of Police John Murphy.

Arrests Made
June 15, 4:30 a.m. — Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific Rail yard - Northwest of corner of Raleigh and 68th Avenue W., West Duluth

Immediately after receiving the phone call, Police Chief Murphy orders the John Robinson Circus not to leave Duluth. Packed and ready for the next stop on the tour, the circus trains are stopped at the Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific Railyard just before leaving town. Assisted by approximately fifteen fellow officers, Chief Murphy apprehends thirteen blacks from the train cars and questions them. Seven are released; six are arrested.