Duluth Police Chief opens up about family's involvement in Dulut - KBJR 6 Your Weather Authority: News, Weather & Sports

Duluth Police Chief opens up about family's involvement in Duluth lynchings

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June 15th 1920 will forever be remembered as the darkest day in Duluth's history. 

Although the lynchings of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac Mcghie happened nearly a century ago, the egregious act of violence continues to impact the community today.

"I can honestly say, I have never gone by that memorial and not felt some level of regret or shame," said Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken.

Hometown hero, Police Chief Mike Tusken, is motivated by the same family secret that haunts him.

"Nobody wants to talk about a lynching that their family was a part of," said Tusken.

Tusken was in his mid-twenties when his mother first told him his grandfather's sister played a significant role in the darkest day of Duluth's history.

"My great-aunt was at a fair out in West Duluth and comes home and alleges that she was sexually assaulted by three African American men," said Tusken.

An allegation, that was enough to incite a mob of nearly 10,000 people, was proven false after a Doctor's examination confirmed there was no evidence of rape. 

According to documents from the NAACP, the 19-year-old told the lie to cover up her own misdeeds with a man by the name of James Sullivan.

"I'm not sure that anyone but Irene would be able to speak to that. It makes me wonder if she ever confided in anyone" said Tusken. 

"Irene Tusken took the lie that she told about the three men to her grave," said KUWS radio host and founder of the Clayton Jackson Mcghie Foundation Henry Banks

Banks says the lynchings still have a direct impact on issues facing the Duluth African American community today.

"The unemployment rate. The lack of real professional opportunities. The mistrust that's still here it's from the 1920 lynchings that carries over," says Banks.

Problems Chief Tusken acknowledges and takes seriously. 

"That is part of the reason I changed the mission when I became chief of police," Mike Tusken.

Despite the lynchings happening 48 years before Tusken was born, his family's history fuels his dedication to create a better Duluth. 

"Nothing I can do in my lifetime will ever take a way the terrible tragedy that happened in 1920. But what I can do is live my life well and use this role as a leader to ensure that we have the best police department and that I am advocating for every single person in this community and that will be my history, that will be the chapter that I write," Tusken. 

According to the U.S Census, the African American population in Duluth declined by more than 50% in the years following the lynchings. 

During that time, the Superior Chief of Police ordered all of the black people to leave, and based on multiple oral histories reported by the Minnesota Historical Society, there has since been a heightened fear among those African Americans who chose to stay. 

"To this day, Duluth has very serious racial issues." Henry Banks.
A fourth circus worker, Max Mason, was convicted for raping Irene Tusken despite the lack of evidence. 

He served four years before being released on parole, under the condition he left the state of Minnesota.

"The solution is that we have to understand, in order for us to come together, there is no such thing as race. There is a human race and when we come to that conclusion, we can set aside the lies and myths, and come together as one community," said Banks.

"On behalf of your family you want to say you are deeply sorry, [and] while I was not alive, I am deeply sorry," said Mike Tusken.

Three men were charged with inciting a riot, and sentenced to five years in prison.

They were released after serving one year in jail. 

No one was ever charged with murder for the deaths of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, or Isaac Mcghie.

Chief Tusken says since becoming aware of his family's history, he has dedicated his career to diversifying the police department, and developing relationships between police and community.

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