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Duluth Minnesota Lynchings of 1920: Selected Materials

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: S6037

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of selected materials, all but one from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society (St. Paul, Minnesota), documenting the lynchings, press coverage, and court records of subsequent trials.

There is a 25 page finding aid Guide to the Use of this Microfilm, description, roll contents list and appendix of additional sources.


  • Creation: 1920-1976
  • Creation: Majority of material found in 1920-1925, circa 1939, 1971, 1976


Conditions Governing Access

Open for use in the Kathryn A. Martin Library, Archives and Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection may be protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials. Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law.

Biographical / Historical

At its founding in 1849 — nine years before Minnesota's statehood — the Society was comprised of a small group of people, including territorial Gov. Alexander Ramsey, with a deep appreciation for the past and a vibrant vision for the future. Today the Society is one of the premier historical organizations in the nation, annually offering a broad array of programs and services to more than 1.6 million people. At the brink of a new millennium, the Society celebrated its own history and a bright vision for the future.

When the Society began, Minnesota's territorial boundaries reached to the Missouri River, but the energy of its settlers knew no bounds. St. Paul, the capital and largest city, had 910 people when Ramsey took office as the first territorial governor. Minneapolis did not yet exist. The Society's work is strengthened by its membership of more than 16,000 people who share a commitment to learning from the past. In the beginning, 100 members joined in "conversational meetings" to discuss Minnesota history. They financially supported the Smithsonian Institution's publication of a dictionary of the Dakota language, spurring an interest in publishing that launched what later became the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

MHS Press today has an active list of more than 200 titles. Topics range from historic preservation to farm life, and the list still includes the Dakota dictionary.

People of all ages learn from the Society's programs, exhibitions, collections and publications, but teaching new generations of Minnesotans about their heritage has been a priority for the Society. In 1999, more than 250,000 school children participated in educational programs at the History Center and historic sites.

The work of the Society was carried out by volunteers until, in 1869, part-time volunteer J. Fletcher Williams became the first and only paid employee. Volunteers — close to 1,000 per year— remain essential to the strength of the Society today.

Collections include nearly 550,000 books, 37,000 maps, 250,000 photographs,165,000 historical artifacts, nearly 800,000 archaeological items, 38,000 cubic feet of manuscripts, 45,000 cubic feet of government records, and 5,500 paintings, prints and drawings.

Most of the collections are stored in the History Center, where climate-controlled conditions and professional staff assure that they are maintained for future generations.

In the Society's earliest years, the collections were stored in spare rooms in the State Capitol, a building that burned in 1881. The search for a fireproof building did not reach fruition until the Society's building on Cedar Street — now the Minnesota Judicial Center — was dedicated on May 11, 1918, the 60th anniversary of statehood.

By the time the Society reached its 100th year, growth of the collections required more storage buildings. The answer became an old mule barn and the former warehouses of a mattress company and a beer distributor. Minnesota History Center

Minnesota History Center

The completion of the History Center on Oct. 17, 1992, brought together the archives, collections and libraries. The $76.4 million project took 10 years of planning and two and a half years of construction. The History Center's design fulfills the Society's dual purpose: to collect and preserve Minnesota's past and make that heritage available to the public.

The Minnesota History Center is at 345 W. Kellogg Blvd. in St. Paul. Auxiliary aids and services are available with advance notice.

On the night of June 15, 1920, three young African American circus workers were lynched in Duluth, Minnesota. They were three of six men jailed for alleged assault or rape of a white woman. The three men were pulled from jail cells and hanged from a light poll a few blocks away by a mob and spectators numbering in the thousands.

STATEMENT OF PURPOSE, from MHS lynchings web stie

For most Minnesotans, the intervening years since the lynchings would obliterate their collective memory, leaving a diminishing handful to treat it, like all dirty secrets, as something best left unspoken. –William Green, Associate Professor of History, Augsburg College.¹

The Duluth Lynchings Online Resource provides an opportunity to remember and learn from this tragic incident in Minnesota history. With the activities of the Clayton, Jackson, McGhie Memorial Committee (CJMMC) — a citizen group dedicated to the remembrance of the three lynching victims — and the Duluth Branch of the NAACP, the lynchings have begun to be studied more extensively. The 2000 publication of Michael Fedo’s The Lynchings in Duluth by the MHS Press has also spurred new interest in the lynchings. The Minnesota Historical Society now presents this web site to provide an in-depth and scholarly resource of primary source materials on the subject, designed also for those unfamiliar with this tragic event.

This web site facilitates access to over 2,000 pages of scanned documents, the vast majority originating from MHS’s recently completed microfilm edition of Duluth lynchings records. Completed in 2001, this microfilm reproduces records from nine Minnesota government agencies and additional related items. Until the microfilm edition was created, these records were spread over several MHS collections, making them difficult to locate and study, especially for younger students and casual researchers.

This site is not an online exhibit, but rather a digital collection providing primary source materials with a minimum of interpretation. We have sought to provide a limited narrative that provides a succinct explanation of the lynchings and the context in which they happened.

In this way we hope to present the Duluth lynchings as important and instructive – a part of Minnesota history that, while painful to remember or relive, should not be forgotten.


3.00 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The collection consists of selected materials, all but one from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society (St. Paul, Minnesota), documenting the lynchings, press coverage, and court records of subsequent trials.

Physical Location

This collection is located at the University of Minnesota Duluth Archives. For more information about this collection or to make an appointment, contact us at or 218-726-8526.


This collection is owned by the Minnesota Historical Society, but is housed at the University of Minnesota Duluth Archives.

Guide to the Duluth Minnesota Lynchings of 1920: Selected Materials
Finding Aid Authors: P. Maus.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University of Minnesota Duluth Archives and Special Collections Collecting Area

Kathryn A. Martin Library
University of Minnesota Duluth
416 Library Drive
Duluth MN 55812-3001
(218) 726-8526