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BHS student hopes to rename media center after pioneering black lawyer

Charles Scrutchin, a prominent black lawyer who worked in Bemidji in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Bemidji High School will name its media center after Scrutchin. (Minnesota Historical Society photo)

BEMIDJI—A Bemidji High School senior hopes to name the school's media center after a pioneering black lawyer.

Andrew Hokanson, a student representative on the Bemidji Area Schools board, asked board members on Monday to name the media center after Charles Scrutchin, a prominent black lawyer who worked in Bemidji in the late 1800s and early 1900s and was named vice president of the Beltrami County Bar Association.

Scrutchin is perhaps best known for defending a black circus worker dubiously accused of raping a white woman in Duluth in 1920. His client was acquitted and charges against five other defendants in the case—all black—were ultimately dismissed, according to the Minnesota Historical Society, but not before an angry mob forced its way into the Duluth city jail and lynched three more black men accused of the same crime.

The lynchings drew national attention and a grand jury investigation. In 2003, the city erected a memorial to the three men at the downtown intersection where they were killed.

"This is part of the history that we don't often see for Northern Minnesota," Hokanson told board members at Monday's meeting. "This helps bring up that conversation, that there has been racism and discrimination in our community for a long time."

School board members unanimously agreed with Hokanson and Superintendent Jim Hess' recommendation to rename the media center, but district policy requires a second vote before the change becomes official. The board's next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 18.

If board members give final approval, Hokanson said the county bar association might pay for a plaque or painting of Scrutchin to be installed in the center.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

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