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Ethel Ray Nance Text Transcript

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.

 

 
  1. Statement of Purpose
  2. Timeline
  3. Oral Histories
  4. People
  5. Glossary
  6. Additional Resources

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