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'Embracing a truth'

About 70 people attended the annual Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial event Thursday, June 15. (Bob King / Forum News Service)1 / 6
The World Beat Drummers from Myers-Wilkins School provide the music at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial Thursday, June 15. (Bob King / Forum News Service)2 / 6
Henry Banks, who co-founded the Clayton Jackson McGhie committee, and Heidi Bakk-Hansen, secretary of the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, light candles on Tkhursday, June 15, in memory of the three men who were lynched in 1920. (Bob King / Forum News Service)3 / 6
Henry Banks speaks on the topic of unity and how people must stay connected and respect one another for progress to be made in race relations during the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial event Thursday, Jne 15, in Duluth. (Bob King / Forum News Service)4 / 6
"It's always inspirational," said Kurt Kuehm of Duluth, about the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial. "We've still got a lot of work to do." Kuehm attended the memorial event Thursday honoring the three black men who were lynched in 1920 after being wrongly accused of rape. (Bob King / Forum News Servoce)5 / 6
Flowers are placed at the base of each of the figures of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie during the memorial event Thursday, June 15. (Bob King / Forum News Service)6 / 6

DULUTH — Community members gathered in Duluth on Thursday, June 15, to remember the 1920 lynching of three black men who were falsely accused of rape.

The annual Day of Remembrance at the downtown memorial to Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie is "a painful event, and it's a hurtful event, and it's a burdened and sad day," Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said at the gathering on the 97th anniversary of the lynching. "But it's a proud day for me in this community because it is an embracing of a truth and a lifting up of our reality."

The area where the three men were murdered sat as only a parking lot at the intersection of First Street and Second Avenue East before Heidi Bakk-Hansen brought it to the attention of Henry Banks, the founder of the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial.

"And Henry is the person who found out who owned the property and asked the city, or demanded, that the city trade that property to make this happen," said Bakk-Hansen, who had been writing about the lynching at the time. "That's why this is here."

The memorial was dedicated to Clayton, Jackson and McGhie in 2003.

Bob Grytdahl, a current board member for Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial Inc., presented Banks an award Thursday for his years of leadership. Banks said creating action comes from staying connected with people.

"It may be bleak but we must stay connected," Banks said over and over to the crowd. "To stay connected we must not tear one another down; instead, let's commit ourselves to building one another up."

Grytdahl shared a similar sentiment in his speech and said that translates to how people communicate online, too.

"Today we have Facebook, we have Twitter, we have Snapchat," he said. "We have ways of communicating hate to everyone, and what we do about it as individuals determines what's going to happen in the future."

The ARE spoken-word poetry group followed the speeches with performances from students MizJanetta Paul and Myseana Anderson. The World Beat Drummers of Myers-Wilkins Elementary School bookended the event along with words from emcee Stephan Witherspoon, president of the Duluth chapter of the NAACP.

Witherspoon reminded attendees that people of color need to be a part of decision-making processes in the community.

"We must remember that the fight, the struggle is still so real," he said. "We need to make sure that we have people of color in power in Duluth, we have people of color who earn a living wage. And that we are validated in Duluth. We have to make sure of that because it's not happening and it needs to start happening."