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The thin, dangerous line. December 4, 2003

Posted by worldspectacle in Uncategorized.
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A lynch mob storms the Duluth, MN jail.

They�re selling postcards of the hanging
They�re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They�ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they�re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row
��Desolation Row,� by Bob Dylan

(At the time of the lynching, Dylan�s then ten-year-old father lived in a third floor apartment at 221 North Lake Avenue in Duluth.)

On June 15, 1920, a mob of approximately 10,000 beseiged the Duluth, Minnesota jail, where six black circus-workers who had been accused of gang-raping a white woman were being held.

Incited by cries of “What if it was your daughter? “What if it was your sister?” the crowd battered the jail for hours, finally breaking in and seizing three of the prisoners.

The 11 police officers guarding the jail had been ordered by the Commissioner of Public Safety to refrain from using guns to defend the jailed suspects.

The mob dragged their victims, Isaac McGhie, Elias Clayton and Elmer Jackson, to the corner of First Street and Second Avenue, tied their hands, and hung them from a lamp post.

They then gathered around the bodies and took a group photo. Postcards were made of the picture — they quickly sold out.

No one was prosecuted for murder. Two men were convicted of rioting, and served a little more than two years.

There was no physical evidence to support the woman’s claim.

Ten percent of Duluth residents participated in the lynching.

And, it was not the first lynching in Duluth.

Two years earlier, Olli Kinkonnen, a Finn who was suspected of being against the first world war was tarred, feathered, and hung from a tree on the outskirts of town. A headline in the Duluth Herald read, “Knights Of Liberty Tar And Feather Slacker.”

Historian Joel Sipress says anti-Finnish sentiment was powerful in this region in 1918. “He was an anti-war Finn. In northeast Minnesota, to be an anti-war Finn at that time was to be perceived as a subversive. Mr. Kinkkonen probably received this less for what he did, than what he symbolized in the eyes of so-called patriotic Americans. ”

Mr. Kinkkonen’s grave, in Park Hill Cemetery in Duluth, is just a few rows down from those of the three black victims of the 1920 lynching. The grave remained unmarked until 1993, when The Tyomies Society, a Finnish cultural group, placed a marker on it. It reads, “Olli Kinkkonen, 1881 to 1918, Victim of Warmongers.”

Why do we bring this up? Because police last month snatched peaceful, law-abiding protestors off the streets in Miami, and beat them. Because army reservists surrounded Father John Dear’s church in the early morning, and, incited by their commander, screamed “Kill! Kill! Kill!” Because of the extraordinary madness of mobs meting out politically-motivated vigilante “justice.”

There is a very thin line between inciting and killing. Shall we next have death squads and “disappearances”?

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