Minnesota Humanities Center

Impossible to Remain Silent

Posted June 3, 2021

Our nation, for far too long, has remained silent about open and notorious acts of racial violence experienced by African Americans.

As a teenager reading, The Black Book edited by Middleton A. Harris and Toni Morrison, I became aware of the countless atrocities experienced by African Americans that were ignored and omitted from most history books.

The scars within the African American community are unable to heal and any real hope of authentic racial reconciliation lay impotent as the nation struggles to take the first step to rebuild trust by acknowledging past transgressions.

The Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial (CJMM) in Duluth is an example of one of those important first steps to racial reconciliation. The CJMM tells the story of three young Black men who were lynched by a mob of approximately 10,000 people in 1920.

The CJMM has the words ‘impossible to remain silent’ above the artist rendition of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie. The words are poignant, pointed, and powerful.

All that come to CJMM to learn from the past are not only called to mourn the tragedy but also to raise their voice and to act.

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the CJMM organizing committee was unable to bring 10,000 people to Duluth to commemorate the lynchings and continue its work of racial reconciliation.

Undaunted and undeterred, the CJMM organizing committee is proceeding forward with activities through virtual platforms this year.

The Minnesota Humanities Center is proud to partner with the CLCC to host the event, “Understanding our Duluth Lynchings: Racial Violence in America and the Road to Justice and Reconciliation” in support of CJMM’s commemoration activities.

This past year, there has been an awakening to the past horrors inflicted upon African Americans and a call for meaningful racial reconciliation.

We must not remain silent about what happened in Duluth. We must not remain silent about the history of violence in the United States.

There can be no meaningful restoration without acknowledging our collective past.

I hope that the June 14 event will be one of many first steps we take to begin real racial reconciliation in our nation.

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Christopher P. Lehman Headshot
By: Christopher P. Lehman

Christopher P. Lehman is a Professor of Ethnic Studies at St. Cloud State University.