BareBones 2020 · OFFERINGS: Artists Respond to the Mourning, Grieving and Fires on Lake Street

Mary Plaster

Stop Killing Black People

We invite you to view the online feature of Stop Killing Black People: a personal photo journey of the 100th anniversary of the Duluth Lynchings by artist Mary Plaster. For the full albums, visit the artist’s Facebook page.

For her project in OFFERINGS: BareBones 2020, Mary revisited her home city’s violent history and reflected upon it in relation to the recent uprisings on Lake St. Her research on this story took her on a pilgrimage to the four sites associated with victims named Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie on June 15, 1920. Captured in the more than 20 photos she has taken, Mary shows the present day state of these sites: the West Duluth circus grounds, the downtown police station, the nearby lamp post corner where the lynching took place, and the East Duluth burial grounds. One image is a historical postcard of Wheeler Field from 1920 which the artist did not take.

photos: Mary Plaster

Mary noted, “Until recently Duluth was the only site of an African American lynching in Minnesota. I updated my personal knowledge in honor of George Floyd who was killed by Minneapolis police almost exactly 100 years after this horrific event (in addition to similar ongoing national crimes against Black people). After extensive reading and watching a recent documentary I decided to photograph and submit present day locations because I felt it important as a white woman to look at the facts of the timeline squarely, without doing a personal spin on  them. Lynching is horrific no matter what race, gender, or age of the victims or whatever tools we terrorists choose for the execution. In all cases the targets of terrorism are innocent of everything besides being young men of African descent. This narrative is still far too common in the United States as we have been witnessing over and over again. White people need to see that clearly.”

I was part of the fundraising efforts for the Clayton Jackson McGhie (CJM) Memorial  immediately after I moved to Duluth in 2000. It was my introduction to antiracism training (as the mother of a biracial daughter) and inspired the building my larger-than-life puppet series of historical activists. This public remembrance of lynching, bringing truth to light, remains unique in the United States. Some minor vandalism occurred at the Memorial this spring due to the 100th anniversary and the nationwide demonstrations responding to the murder of George Floyd in South Minneapolis. There is now a historical marker (only a few weeks old) on the actual crime site where a lamppost existed.

The notable changes to the story that I have observed over these 20 years include the release of the actual names of the accusers, Irene Tusken and James Sullivan. Amazingly, they were allowed to live out their lives in relative peace, never confessing to the horrible event that was inspired by their lies. Duluth’s lead police officer discovered and confessed the family secret that the “white girl from West Duluth,” who accused the arrested men, was his great aunt. The first book by Michael Fedo, The Lynchings in Duluth, published in 1979 brought to bear the story that had been forgotten; however, the names were changed to protect the privacy of the individuals. The school teacher, Warren Read, became aware that his grandfather, Louis Dondino, had been the most successful recruiter of the enraged lynch mob that formed so quickly after the rumors had spread. Dondino’s book, The Lyncher in Me, published in 2008 included the actual names.”

Mary also walked Max Skeleton, the giant skeleton marionette down Lake Street to the rubbled 3rd Precinct Station on this past Halloween night. Max Skeleton, created by Mary and Chris Lutter, had originally debuted in the 2017 BareBones.

About the Artist

Mary Plaster is a Minnesota-raised, world-traveled, trans-disciplinary artist with advanced degrees in studio/theatre art and world spirituality/activism. Since 2008, she has been the founding artistic director of Duluth All Souls Night, a multicultural arts festival held in November that transforms grief and has been attracting hundreds of people to the downtown Depot in 2019 and 2020. She has worked for many years with In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre and BareBones Puppets. Mary lived for four years in central Mexico and traveled to Bali, Europe, India, and South America, observing masks and puppets in ritual. She is currently working online with Miroslav Trejtnar of Puppets in Prague to carve wooden Czech marionettes.