The Lynchings in Duluth: Second Edition by Michael Fedo

The Lynchings in Duluth: Second Edition by Michael Fedo

Author:Michael Fedo
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 978-1-68134-014-2
Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press
Published: 2016-05-28T04:00:00+00:00

Deputies in the small town of Virginia anticipated a nightmare. Within the hour, a rumor filtered through the population that a caravan of fifty cars, loaded with armed men, was headed for Virginia to take the rest of the blacks. Law enforcement personnel there numbered fewer than a dozen, and the likelihood of citizens assisting the law officers in such an occurrence looked doubtful; nobody was going to stick his neck out for “niggers”—maybe not even the officers. Said one of the deputies, “We’ll post a watch on the Vermilion Road and say our prayers.”

The mob working at the Duluth jail maintained such remarkable order that many observers would later believe the incident had been a well-planned attack by Wobblies from the IWW or even the communists.

Attorney Hugh McClearn, a raspy-voiced rustic, a favorite among his peers for his wit and charm, had stayed at the scene after Judges Cant and Fesler left. As hammers rang and saws whined and screeched, almost muted by the crowd’s increasing bedlam, McClearn mounted a rickety stepladder in the stifling hallway. His gray-streaked hair matted with sweat, McClearn clutched a sweat-dampened handkerchief and pleaded with the mob to stop.

Gradually, the disenchanted mutterings ceased, but not before two men attempted to shake McClearn from the ladder. Edward McDevitt, an assistant county attorney, angrily shoved the two away and steadied the ladder. Though the work of hammers continued, the hundreds packed into the cell hall listened to McClearn.

“Give the courts a chance to administer justice according to the law,” he cried, his voice cracking. “Sgt. Olson says there are six niggers here. Three of the men the police have no dope on at all. They may be absolutely innocent.”

“If we get the ropes, we’ll find the guilty ones soon enough!” someone retorted.

McClearn steadied himself on the ladder. The temperature in the hallway had risen to over ninety degrees, and the stench of sweat was all pervasive. “Men, I—”

“We don’t care if they are guilty or innocent!” a man yelled. “Kill the black snakes!”

“Wait!” McClearn pleaded, his hands over his head, waving for silence, but he could not hear his own voice above the renewed clamoring. “Look boys, I’m as indignant about the attack on the girl as you are. But the proper thing to do is to leave the law take its course.”

The mob quieted after someone shouted, “You a lawyer, mister?”

“Yes, I am.”

“We don’t have no electric chair or hanging in Minnesota, ain’t that right?”

Sadly, the lawyer shook his head. “No, but—”

“Then what happens to the niggers, lawyer?”

McClearn would remember he’d have given anything at that moment to be able to tell the mob that conviction for rape meant death or even life in prison. He would later say that if the men could have been assured of that, they may well have ceased. But after he struggled for a deep breath, he said, “If they’re convicted, they’ll get five to thirty years.”

“To hell with the law!” screamed several dozen men. And McClearn was roughly pulled from the ladder.


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