DULUTH – “An event has happened, upon which it is difficult to speak and impossible to remain silent,” Lamarquita Leach read the words carved into stone at the lynching memorial in downtown Duluth.
“These events are still happening,” she said.
So are the protests.
Every weeknight in Duluth last week, an increasing crowd of mourners and activists have gathered at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial to pay tribute to the life of George Floyd and demand change.
“I didn’t want to take a day off from it,” said organizer Kirsten Kelley. “When the whole world is on our side we need this, we need to keep talking and having these hard conversations.”
Nearly two weeks since Floyd was killed after a Minneapolis police officer, now charged with murder, knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes, protests have continued across the country and around the world.
The largest event in Duluth took place Tuesday, when more than 1,000 people gathered downtown for a march and peaceful demonstration calling for an end to police brutality and white supremacy. Hundreds have also gathered in nearby cities such as Superior, Wis., and Hibbing, Minn.
Duluth’s nightly protest, which includes a short march and nine minutes of silence, grew from a handful of Kelley’s friends on Monday to more than 150 people by the end of the week.
“I love that the community is coming together like this,” said Kelley, a 2018 Denfeld High School graduate. “Everyone is really tired of this issue, and we want to be there for change and we want to do it peacefully.”
Leach, 23, has been using the site for a daily community cookout. She is spending her days at the memorial, cooking hot dogs and blasting tunes for anyone passing by who may want to stop and reflect. Her goal is to bring the community together over free food and encourage important conversations.
She said that by continuing these conversations, change will come.
“If I see a cop committing a crime, who am I supposed to call to protect and to serve me?” she asked.
Kelley said the weeknight protests will continue as long as possible, which means they will run into an important date in Duluth’s history.
June 15 marks a century since three black circus workers, Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie, were dragged by a white mob from a Duluth jail cell and lynched from a light pole downtown after being accused of raping a white woman. There was no evidence the rape actually occurred.
There were plans to gather thousands of people downtown to mark the anniversary with multiple events, but earlier this spring almost all of it was postponed to 2021 because of COVID-19.
Now it’s likely that hundreds if not thousands of people will gather after all in the days surrounding the anniversary as protests continue over Floyd’s death. A downtown march will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. June 19, or Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the end of slavery. (The date itself marks the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas in 1865.)
Abdul Hussein, holding a sign that read “Liberty and Justice 4 All,” reached out to touch the solemn statues at the memorial while he attended a protest earlier this week.
“When I touched them I felt some sort of connection as a black man,” he said. “It reminds me of the troubles I went through growing up.”
He later reflected on social media that “touching each one as I go by felt like I was looking at my own reflection and praying to God to watch over me.”