Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial Vandalized During Protests; Duluth NAACP Pres. Reacts

"They're frustrated so they need an outlet, so let's make better outlets for them," said NAACP Pres. Stephan Witherspoon.

DULUTH, Minn.-Clean-up began Sunday morning for one of Duluth’s most treasured memorials, the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial on East First Street. An anti-police message was spray-painted on the brick floor of the memorial during protests on Saturday.

“I was hurt. I was hurt that we have to see that,” said Stephan Witherspoon, Co-Chair of the Memorial Board.

The statues of the three black men wrongly lynched years ago after being accused of raping a woman overlooked crews erasing the profane graffiti, scrawled on the bricks during the previous night’s protests.

“They’re frustrated so they need an outlet,” Witherspoon said. “So let’s make better outlets for them.”

Witherspoon, also the President of the Duluth Branch of the NAACP, said many young African Americans feel they have no other way to vent their frustrations and fear.

“We have young people who need to express themselves in a positive way so unless we give them that outlet to do so, I hope things like this don’t happen again but we need to have that space for them to speak up and speak out,” he said.

City of Duluth crew members said having to clean paint off such a longstanding memorial was a painful task.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Dale Sellner, Parks and Grounds Maintenance Supervisor.

“And it’s unfortunate,” he said. “I guess everybody understands the circumstances today but we respect this area just like we respect the rest of our parks and we take graffiti seriously.”

But as the dust cleared Sunday, crews said people coming out to clean the area around the memorial was a glimmer of hope.

“We in the parks department have always encouraged volunteerism and partnerships and people just want to come out and help,” said Sellner. “Time is right, and the thing is, the right thing to do.”

The vandalization occurred during protests of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, who was killed after a police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes as he struggled for air.

An act, Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said, was disgraceful.

“What we saw it was devastating for us to watch, it was embarrassing for me as a law enforcement officer to see how he begged for his last breath and it was denied from him. And that is not what policing represents,” the Chief said in a press conference Sunday.

“We need our allies to step up,” said Witherspoon. “We need people to fight with us, to say it’s not acceptable, any place, anytime, anywhere.”

And until systemic racism is dismantled, Witherspoon said, the defacing of a memorial dedicated to his forefathers will not stop the fight.

“African Heritage males like myself need to stop being murdered,” he said. “That is the whole point and so until that stops, you will see some unrest, and you will see young folks who have no outlet to deal with in a positive way to act out.”

“We need to come together and we need to do better,” he said.

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