Jennifer Bartsch

 ***This is very long, but it's nearly all a set of lesson plans I'm developing for a middle school classroom.  Just thought I'd let you know, so you don't think I've gone off the deep end by writing a novel***

Monstrous Surge

Like sinister undercurrents that shift deep within the frigid waters of Lake Superior, unearned privileges are always present, but seldom seen.  These currents drag and distort below the placid façade of social stability while we pretend they do not exist.  We fail to hear the warnings and often refuse to consider advocating change to halt their erosion within our society.  "They are harmless," we reason.  "They are just part of life," we tell ourselves.  Consequently, we allow these deadly undercurrents to build over time until they are simply too powerful to remain hidden any longer. 

And when these turbulent movements swell and rush upon the shore to swallow everything in their path, we are faced with racial conflict that obliterates any sense of serenity that once covered the surface.  Bias...Prejudice...Discrimination...Extermination.  If allowed to fester, our racial inequalities may amass into a monstrous surge. 

 Despite their powerful influence in our lives, unearned privileges are rarely acknowledged.  They are simply the benefits we enjoy in nearly every facet of our lives.  In fact, McIntosh describes this set of privileges as an invisible and weightless knapsack of special provisions each of us wears throughout the day.  We bear these packs and fail to acknowledge the benefits we possess because of our gender, color or status.  And we even abhor any insistence that we promote equality if it comes at the expense of our comfortable lives. Why?  Are our muddied perceptions of life as the benefactors of privilege acceptable?  Is perpetual inequality tolerable?

Sadly, white privilege has become our own dirty secret that each of us will carry with us until "white supremacy is erased from this society" (Jensen, 1998).  But how will that ever occur unless we concede and call for change?

Jensen (1998) believes we must first admit we possess and have benefitted from a number of privileges because "we face a choice about what we do with our success."  And when we make this decision, the racial undercurrents that course throughout the depths of our society will finally be quelled. 

Will we peel off our invisible knapsacks and support equality that allows former victims of unearned privileges to shop in peace, climb the corporate ladder, and feel valued as an equal member of society?  Are we strong enough to fight for such a change as this?  As McIntosh believes, "The pressure to avoid it is great, for in facing it I must give up the myth of meritocracy.  If these things are true, this is not such a free country; one's life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own..."

Change begins within ourselves.  And it must also begin with our students, who possess the power to overcome racial inequality.  We must model this for them.  This is my mission...

For equality to become a reality, we must admit our privileges and recognize their influence in the social tension that amasses just below the surface. Only when we see these invisible forces of inequality at work, can we advocate change and eradicate the surging undercurrents that shift deep below the placid façade. 



An Introduction

Some may argue our unearned privileges are just another harmless part of our lives, but I would disagree.  If left to fester and build over time, these privileges have the potential to build into unimaginable atrocities.  I know.  As a life-long resident of Duluth, Minnesota, I'm aware of the dark secret our city has tried to bury.  Our city attempted to keep its past silent.  It hide it from the history books...refused to openly present it to the public...and failed to acknowledge those who were never given the "privilege" to live out their lives on this earth...

Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie

These three young African American men were the victims of Minnesota's most horrific hate crime in history.  These men, likely innocent of the crime they were accused of, were lynched on June 15, 1920 in Duluth, Minnesota...thanks to a throng of 10,000 men, women, and children who screamed for their immediate death.  Justice was served on their the expense of these young men's lives. 

At this time in history, many outsiders believed the notion that northern states were essentially safe havens for the black communities.  This generalization proved disastrously untrue.  Duluth, like any other place in America during that era, was a breeding ground for racial hatred, which was felt in the lives of many of the African Americans who called the Northland their home.  During no other time in Duluth history was this as evident as on June 15th, 1920.  This will forever be remembered as the moment the evil undercurrent rushed to the surface and came crashing down, displaying force and gravitational thrust with every wave in its wake.  As a result of the infamous lynchings of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie in Duluth during the final hours of June 15th, 1920, Duluth will never be the same.  This city, with its pristine lakeshore and bustling communities, could have been a model for the nation in racial and cultural tolerance.  Instead, the city of Duluth fell victim to the same brand of hatred that has hampered racial relations in America since the country's inception. 

The facade that the north was a safe haven for African Americans was, in part, fueled by the U.S. Steel Corporation.  This factory was based in Duluth during the early part of the 1900's and was known for recruiting southerners to work in their factory, thus suppressing talks of strike within the ranks of white factory workers.  With the promise of a job and a bright future, many African Americans migrated north to work in the plant.  However, the ugly wave of racial inequality boldly surfaced when black factory workers were denied housing opportunities in the bordering neighborhood of Morgan Park.  Instead, most congregated in the dilapidated community of Gary, which was one of the most well-known slums in the city at that time. Some believed these southerners took away jobs that should have been designated for the existing residents of Duluth.  Others may have already felt racial hatred as a result of the collective opinion raging in America during that time period.  For whatever reason, Duluth was a city boiling over with racial tension.  It was only a matter of time before the undercurrents would become too monstrous to contain.

In June of 1920, the hideous tide of racial hatred finally billowed.

Many years have come and gone since that evil night in 1920.  The lynching of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie on June 15thwas possibly the darkest moment in Duluth's history... and the aftereffects continue to linger today after nearly 90 years.  This atrocity began as a swell of hatred on the surface.  Its intensity multiplied and swiftly grew into a gush of uncontrollable hatred that could not be contained.  For the sake of Elias, Elmer, and Isaac, individuals can choose to remember their lives and deaths and vow to never let this kind of monstrous rage surge ever again.  Though painful, we will learn so as never to repeat the hatred that took three lives from us...

Let Us Remember

...for the sake of Elias, Elmer, and Isaac, as well as countless others who are the victims of racism everyday...


***The following is the first in a series of lessons based upon the lynchings in Duluth on June 15, 1920.  The subsequent lessons are still "in the works" (I plan on teaching some or all of them to a group of middle school students at some point this year).  Therefore, I will briefly mention the activities and the focus for the day, rather than go into detail as I did with the first lesson.***


We Will Remember

Honoring the Victims of the 1920 Duluth Lynchings

~Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie~


For most Minnesotans, the intervening years since the lynchings would obliterate their collective memory, leaving a diminishing handful to treat it, like all dirty secrets, as something best left unspoken.

-William Green, Associate Professor of History, Augsburg College.


Grade Level: 8th

Unit:  Monstrous Surge: Racism and the 1920 Lynchings in Duluth, Minnesota


Unit Objectives:

The following curriculum standards for grades 4-8 were taken from the Minnesota Department of Education's website: 

I. U.S. History

G. Reshaping the Nation and the Emergence of Modern America, 1877-1916: "The student will analyze the transformation of the American economy and the changing social and political conditions in response to the Industrial Revolution"

"Students will identify and explain racial segregation and racism, including the rise of ‘Jim Crow,' the Ku Klux Klan, discrimination against immigrants, and the relocation of American Indian tribes to reservations, and analyze the impact of these actions."  

II. Minnesota History

F. World Wars I and II, and the Interwar period, 1914-1945: "The student will know and understand the impact on Minnesota of World War I and World War II, as well as, the social and economic changes of the 1920s and the 1930s."

1. Students will understand the issues that Minnesotans faced during World War I  and how they responded to them.

2. Students will demonstrate the knowledge the social, political, and economic changes of the 1920s and 1930s and analyze the impact of the Great Depression and the New Deal.

II. Minnesota History

G. Post-World War II to the Present:"The student will know and understand Minnesota's role in the major social, economic and political changes, both national and international, in the last half of the 20th century through the present, and analyze the impact of those changes."

1. Students will explain how Minnesota has both affected and been affected by the  events, people, and changes in the nation and the world. 

IV. Historical Skills

B. Historical Resources: "The student will begin to use historical resources."

1. Students will identify, describe, and extract information from various types of  historical sources, both primary and secondary. 

2. Students will assess the credibility and determine appropriate use of different sorts of sources.

IV. Historical Skills

C. Historical Inquiry: "The student will analyze historical evidence and draw conclusions."          

1. Students will understand that primary sources document first-hand accounts of historical events and secondary sources may be influenced by the author's interpretation of historical events. 

2. Students will compare perspectives in primary and secondary sources and determine how the different perspectives shaped the authors' view of historical events. 

3. Students will understand the concepts of historical context and multiple causation. 

4. Students will create a timeline that illustrates the relationship of their topic to other historic events.

IV. Historical Skills

C. Historical Inquiry: "The student will present and explain the findings of a research project."    

2. Students will select a presentation medium for their project and learn the skills necessary to communicate their ideas. 


Lesson #1:  Roots in Racism

Objectives: Students will:

  • Analyze the term "privileges" by providing examples derived from the past as well as the present during a discussion
  • Describe the term "lynch" and its origins during a partner writing activity
  • Examine the relationship between privileges and racism during a classroom discussion
  • Identify factors leading to the lynchings in Duluth during a partner writing activity
  • Evaluate personal reactions to racism and the lynching of the three African Americans in Duluth during a reflective writing assignment

Overview:  For this first lesson in our series on racism in Duluth, students will gain an understanding of the factors leading to the racial tension in Duluth in the early twentieth century.  We will explore the national opinions involving race and equality, and also the effects U.S. Steel's hiring practices had on an already festering crisis in the Northland.  During this lesson, students will also explore the connection between white privileges during the 1920's and their role in fueling inequality, discrimination, and ultimately, the lynchings that took place in the heart of the city.

During this lesson, I will conduct a brief lecture, but I will devote most of the time to the following activities listed below.  Note: For our discussion, I will be showing a photographof the lynching that took place in Duluth.  This infamous picture, taken just after the three young black men were hung, was later turned into a postcard and sold as souvenirs...Note the smiling faces.  This mob celebrated the deaths of these men. 

Due to its graphic nature, I will send a permission slip (including a copy of the photograph) home to families the week prior to our first lesson.  Families with concerns or questions will have an opportunity to talk with me and/or refuse to give permission to have their child view the photograph.  Those not able to participate will be given a brief activity to complete in the library that is related to our discussion.  For families who are concerned over this subject matter (specifically the photograph) I will provide this information as well as use the following justification:

  • 1. Our city's history is marred by this horrific event, but we must remember and decide to acknowledge it. Though we cannot change the past, we can remember these men and the hatred that stole them from this world
  • 2. In order to understand the consequences of racism, students must experience it firsthand. This photograph allows each of us to step back in time and try to grapple with the hatred that killed these men
  • 3. Primary sources provide authenticity in a study of history. Photographs are especially powerful tools for explaining both historical and current events around the world. They induce an emotional response that cannot be replicated in any other fashion.


  • Anticipatory set: How do white privileges have consequences on others?
  • Lecture: Overview of racism in America, to include Duluth, during the early twentieth century. This lecture will weave together the idea of privileges and racism; past and present; and the factors that incite racial tension
  • Video of the lynchings
  • Discussion using the photograph of the lynching: How did privileges enjoyed by whites during this time in history result in the deaths of Elias, Elmer, and Isaac? Integrate ideas from the lecture and video. Use terms such as discrimination, segregation, and inequality.
  • Partner activity: Students will work in pairs and explore the background of the Duluth lynchings, as well as the glossary to introduce them to terms used throughout their reading material. During this activity, students will complete a handout based upon the information included on the website.
  • Reflective writing assignment: Students will evaluate their personal response to the racial conflicts that resulted in the deaths of three young men. Use the following quote (which is inscribed on the Clayton, Jackson and McGhie Memorial in Duluth and is taken from this resource) to guide the reflection: "Hatred can never answer hatred; all violence is injustice."- Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Homework assignment: For this unit, students will read assigned pages of Michael Fedo's  The Lynchings in Duluth (originally published as "They Was Just Niggers", which was a quote taken from one of Duluth's residents at the time of the lynching). Each day's discussions will integrate material within the book.


  • Analyze the term privileges by providing examples of privileges of the past and present during a discussion
  • Describe the term lynch and its origins during a partner writing activity
  • Examine the relationship between privileges and racism during a classroom discussion
  • Identify factors leading to the lynchings in Duluth during a partner writing activity
  • Evaluate personal reactions to racism and the lynching of the three African Americans in Duluth during a reflective writing assignment

Assessment for the discussion will be based on participation, accuracy, and critical thought.  I will use a checklist/chart as my guide.

Assessment for the partner writing activity will be based upon accuracy, cooperation among partners, and thoughtfulness in their answers.  Student groups will complete the assignment with at least 90% accuracy.

Assessment for the reflective writing assignment will be based upon personal reflection, quality, in-depth exploration of emotional response, and connection to the day's material.  A rubric will guide me.


Lesson #2:  Today, students will further explore the chain of events that took place on June 15th, 1920.  However, we will begin to explore a variety of perspectives to include the officers, white residents, black residents, as well as quotes taken from the some of the accused men who were taken to the jailhouse to await their "sentence."  Much of our discussion will involve the students' reading material found in The Lynchings in Duluth.  Student pairs will each be responsible for thoroughly exploring one topic or one webpage at the computer following our discussion.  Upon completion of their online activities, each pair will join a small group of other "experts" in order to relay information to one another.  Following our large group discussion that ties together all of the information explored during the lesson, students will write a reflective essay, using the following prompt and quote as their guides:

  • Questions: If you were among the mob in front of the jail prior to the lynchings of Elias, Elmer, and Isaac, what would you have said or done? Whose perspective would you adopt in this scenario?
  • Quote: "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest". - Elie Wiesel

Students will also be assigned pages in their books to read for the following day's lesson.

The following sites will be used well as throughout the rest of the unit:

The Clayton, Jackson and McGhie Memorial Committee Discussion Guide:

The Clayton, Jackson and McGhie Committee:


The Minnesota Historical Society Digital Collection: (for day #2, we will read about "The Lynchings")


The Minnesota Historical Society Oral Histories:


The Minnesota Historical Society Timeline:


Minnesota Public Radio:


MN 150:


The Minnesota Historical Society List of External Resources:


Lesson #3:Today, students will continue to explore the list of web sources, but will also begin to explore racism within our present-day communities in Duluth.  Students will have an opportunity to listen and take part in a discussion with members of Duluth's NAACP chapter in our classroom. 

Following our session, students will read and respond to a handout of the Minnesota Historical Society's "Legal Proceedings" webpage.  Students will complete a worksheet related to the material and will write a brief reflection based upon the following quote that relates to passing on racially damaging beliefs to a new generation: "If you as parents cut corners, your children will too. If you lie, they will too....If parents snicker at racial and gender jokes, another generation will pass on the poison adults still have not had the courage to snuff out."- Marian Wright Edelman

Students will read their required reading to prepare for tomorrow, and will complete their handout reading and worksheet if not finished during class.

Lesson #4:  Today, students will begin to prepare for their day-long field trip to the sites directly involved in the lynchings in Duluth.  Our day will involve the following sites:

  • The site of the John Robinson circus
  • The ore docks near the Lake Superior Harbor
  • A tour through the heart of West Duluth, where the mob largely originated
  • A walk along 1st Street, to reflect the peaceful march along 1st Street when the Memorial was unveiled
  • The site of the Police Station and jailhouse
  • The Clayton, Jackson and McGhie Memorial on 1st street
  • Culminating at the Park Hill Cemetery where the once unmarked graves of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie are located.

To prepare for our day-long event, students will take part in a question and answer session with members of the Clayton, Jackson and McGhie Memorial Committee, as well as sculptor Carla Stetson, who will visit our classroom.

Following our lesson, students will work in small groups listing some of the ways they will help our community remember this vicious crime. This information will be used in a final lesson that explores civic action within our community of Duluth.

Students will complete all of their required reading to prepare for tomorrow.

Reflection for today: Based upon the following question and quote:

  • Question: How will you remember Elias, Elmer, and Isaac?
  • Quote: "An event has happened, upon which it is difficult to speak and impossible to remain silent." - Edmund Burke

Lesson #5:Today, we will participate in a day-long event that takes us from the site of the John Robinson circus, the ore docks, through the heart of West Duluth (where the mob of nearly 10,000 men, women, and children originated) the site of the old Duluth Police Station and jailhouse, the Clayton, Jackson, and McGhie Memorial on the site of the lynching, and will end at the Park Hill Cemetery where the once unmarked graves of Elias, Elmer, and Isaac are located.  During this time, students will reflect on the inscriptions on their gravestones: "Deterred but not defeated."

This quote will be the inspiration for our day's reflective assignment, which will be completed after we arrive back at school at the end of the day.  Prior to our writing assignment, however, we will take part in a large group discussion that explores our thoughts and reactions as we retraced history.  One main focus of our discussion will be the following question: What can be done to our community and our present-day victims of inequality that will honor Elias, Elmer, and Isaac? 

Reflective writing assignment: Based upon the following question and quote:

  • Questions: How can we ensure victims of injustice are not deterred? What can we do to help those in need?

Quote (taken from the victims' gravestones): "Deterred but not defeated."

Weekend homework assignment: Students will brainstorm ideas of ways they can help an individual or group in our Duluth community.  Students will be given a list of criteria for this activity and will work over the course of the next two weeks to create a plan of action to ensure the people and the issues of our community are addressed, so as never to replicate the horrors that occurred on June 15, 1920....


"Deterred but not defeated."