Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today. To the leader of this body-Senior Pastor Kathy Nelson – thank you for your heartfelt, God-ordained guidance over this incredible flock of believers. To the beautiful spirit of the people of Peace United Church of Christ.
To God be the Glory for the things God has done and continues to do all over the world. God is a Spirit and they that worship God must worship God in Spirit and in Truth. God is neither male nor female. The Spirit of God is with Us and in Us. God is imploring Us to do the will of God.
Times are changing. If you are about change…join us in the movement. We cannot do this alone. America is hurting. America is killing itself. America continues to reveal itself to the world. The world is hurting too. America has been exposed for its blatant racism and hate toward African Heritage people. This is not the America I grew up knowing and loving. I’m so tired…but, I can’t give up just yet. God’s not through with me. God’s not through with me yet. When God gets through with me – I
will come out as pure gold. We are all children of God and we have to get our acts together if we expect to please God. The work of Anti-Racism demands a lifetime commitment from all of us. In order to do this work we have to Stay Connected. We are obligated by God to Stay Connected.
There’s just no other way.
I’m here today to talk about the establishment of the Historic Clayton, Jackson, McGhie Memorial site in downtown Duluth. I’m here to share with you how and why the Memorial came into being. And, I’m here to tell you why it’s so important.
Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie were three young African Heritage men in their late teens to early twenties. They were in our city working as members of a traveling circus. They were accused of the heinous crime of raping a white woman by the name of Irene Tusken. It was later determined by a local doctor that the incident of rape never occurred. The three men lost their lives on fateful day June 15, 1920. They lost their lives in front of a mob of up to 10,000 white people from all over the area. Some members of the mob unknowingly participated in the murders. They were dressed in their Sunday best. Some were laughing and smiling, some were selling postcards to commemorate the occasion. And, some even professed to be Christians…to be believers in God. How could those who believed in the sanctity of life take the lives of three innocent men?
In the year 2000, I convened a small group of approximately 7 or eight people to talk about how we might come together as a community to start the process of healing, understanding, compassion, respect, atonement and love. We represented a cross-section of the community. We were black, white, gay, straight, young and not so young. We even had a former member of the KKK on our Team. We had non-believers on our Team also.
It is important that I recognize and honor some of the early members of our Team. They are: late African Heritage Elders Samie McCurley, Perry Kennedy and Maureen Booth. Additional early members included: Sheryl Boman, Catherine Ostos, Catherine Nachbar, Richard Dolezal and Heidi Bakk-Hansen.
I owe a debt of gratitude to artists Carla Stetson and Anthony Peyton-Porter for creating such an incredibly profound piece of Art for our community and for the world to engage in and learn from.
Everyone and anyone was welcome to be a part of the movement. Our only goal was to stay focused – to Stay Connected…but, to stay relatively quiet early on about our intentions so as to not have our plans sabotaged or usurped by anyone or any entity. Our mission was to “Bring the Truth to Light”.
We started out by meeting in a conference room at Washington Center. We met elsewhere too. Including at Community Action Duluth – 21st Avenue West location. Community Action Duluth became our fiscal sponsor. We were transparent with everything related to the project. Transparency was important to us and we would never have had it any other way. To share as much as possible with the community once we were prepared to share our plans with them was paramount for our Team.
The work we were doing was hard yet necessary. We loved our community. We wanted to help our community heal – we wanted to bring our community together. So, we found beauty in mining something (more) from a heinous act that took place in our beautiful city. The incident was tragic. The work of healing was emotional then and it’s emotional today. The process of healing was exhausting. Some wanted to walk away…but, there were those of us who didn’t. We stayed the course. We fought through some of the negativity associated with the message of truth. Telling the truth is difficult. We must tell the truth no matter how difficult it may actually be…Btw, as the message got out about what we were hoping to accomplish, our Team grew to about 45 members. We decided to break the Board down to at least six subcommittees. Those subcommittees had specific requirements for operation such as fund raising, education, public relations, etc. It then became much more manageable for us as an organization.
I want to take a moment to give a shout out to the numerous construction professionals that worked with us from start to finish. The Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial became a labor of love for all who were a part of the first Major Memorial to lynching victims in the United States. I want to thank LaMar Outdoor Advertising for donating the land, excavation and legal fees related to the first phase of the project. To the Foundations, Educational Institutions and individuals near and far – for supporting the project financially. We raised over $300,000 for the construction of this important Memorial. We needed each other then. We need each other now. We must Stay Connected.
The tragic lynchings of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie have stained our consciousness since 1920. Conversations about the lynchings were rarely ever discussed in the white community of Duluth. However, if you were a black college or university student you were made aware of the incident by local Elders. Those same Elders
told us how to behave and where we could or could not go in the city of Duluth.
Our original Memorial Team: We were a strong, highly educated and motivated Team. We met weekly at the start of the project. Oftentimes, we met twice a week just to get the job done for the people.
During this process we developed an academic curriculum, we set up a scholarship, we developed an operational budget, we developed a strategy on how we would gradually approach our community and invite citizens from the area to get involved in our movement for change. I was asked by then Mayor Gary Doty who said this, “are you trying to give the city a black eye?”. When I gave him my response about healing and coming together as one…his perspective changed to one of how may I help in this process? I was even told by a city official (at the time) that the Memorial project was not worthy or eligible for any city funding. I disagreed with her and told her that I would be back for the money. It again was my faith in God that carried me through the entire process. Our Team ended up with $71,000 from the Percent for Art program. It is my faith that helps me everyday along this journey. Hebrews 11 and 1 says: Now Faith is the substance of things hoped for…the evidence of things not seen. I have to tell you – if it were not for my faith in God – I would have given up long ago.
I’m reminded of the continued importance of the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, Inc. and others like it. I remember Mr. George Floyd, Mr. Ahmaud Arbery. The men were lynched in America in 2020 just for being African Heritage men. Their lives were taken from them by a vigilante style system that hates and maligns African Heritage men. A system that would rather kill us instead of love us. I’m reminded of Ms. Breonna Taylor. Her life was taken from her while she slept in her own home with her partner.
Recently, I put together a small gathering of about thirty people to honor the memory of Mr. Arbery. I did this to let the community know that this young man was a beautiful human being and that his life matters. Mr. Arbery was around the same age as the three young African Heritage men who were lynched here in 1920.
Racism is the most vicious of any Pandemic I have ever witnessed. It is racism that continues to keep us separated.
We just cannot go on like this.
God is calling us to repent now. We must come together. We must get together and Stay Connected.