Timeline

1920

June 15th, 1920

Three Black Men Lynched in Duluth, Minnesota

In 1920, the black population of Duluth, Minnesota, numbered 495 out of 98,000 residents. Many had been recruited from the South to work at United States Steel's local plant, while others worked as janitors, servers, porters, and assemblers. Despite their small numbers, black Duluth residents endured significant discrimination; they received lower pay and, barred from white neighborhoods, lived in substandard housing. As in other Northern cities during the era of black migration, many white workers in Duluth felt threatened by black labor and racial tension was high.

On June 14, 1920, two white teenagers, James Sullivan and Irene Tuskan, attended the John Robinson Circus in Duluth. The next morning, they claimed Mr. Sullivan had been held at gunpoint while six black circus workers raped Ms. Tuskan. Though a doctor examining Ms. Tuskan found no evidence of assault, six young black men were arrested and jailed. Newspapers reported the alleged assault and false rumors soon spread that Ms. Tuskan had died from her injuries.

That evening, a mob of 5000 to 10,000 whites gathered at the jail and seized, beat, and lynched three prisoners, Isaac McGhie, Elmer Jackson, and Elias Clayton. The Minnesota National Guard arrived the next morning to secure the area and guard the surviving prisoners. No one was ever convicted for the lynchings. The incident was one of 219 lynchings in Northern states between 1889 and 1918. After more than eighty years, on October 10, 2003, a memorial to the three men killed was dedicated near the site of their deaths.

1943

June 15th, 1943

White Shipyard Workers Riot and Attack Black Community in Beaumont, Texas

On June 15, 1943, a mob of white shipyard workers in Beaumont, Texas, confronted African-American employees after a local white woman claimed that she had been raped by an African-American man. The mob of roughly 3000 men marched on City Hall to capture the man who had been arrested for the crime, then broke into smaller groups and began destroying property in the nearby black neighborhoods and attacking African-American citizens. In total, the mob robbed and burned more than 100 homes.

The Mayor of Beaumont called in the National Guard to dismantle the mob, and the town was placed under martial law for five days. During this time, all roads into the city were blocked, African Americans were not allowed to go to work, and all public gatherings were cancelled. By the end of the riots, 21 people had been killed and more than 200 were arrested. Only 29 of the 200 arrested were charged, and no one was prosecuted for any of the deaths.

Though sparked by the rape accusation, the riots were also thought to be motivated by poor white citizens’ outrage over the elimination of racial wage differentials at the local shipyard. Racial tension had been high in the community as more African-Americans workers were hired for industrial jobs in the shipyard, making them an economic threat in the eyes of local whites. Some sources reported that white citizens had been planning an attack on the African American workers for some time and had originally planned it to coincide with the town’s Juneteenth festivities.