Skip to Content

Minnesota makes history for posthumous pardon of black man convicted in 1920 Duluth rape

Remaining Ad Time Ad - 00:00
Remaining Ad Time Ad - 00:00

ST. PAUL, MN -- For the first time in the state's history, Minnesota leaders have granted a posthumous pardon, clearing the name of a black man convicted of a 1920 rape in Duluth that was never founded.

The Minnesota Board of Pardons, made up of Attorney General Keith Ellison, Governor Tim Walz, and others, voted unanimously Friday to pardon Max Mason.

The crime in question happened in 1920 after Irene Tusken, a white woman, claimed to be gang-raped by several black men in West Duluth while at a traveling circus event.

Those allegations incited a mob, which led to the lynchings of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Issac McGhie.

Mason was tried and convicted in connection to the rape.

According to the pardon application, the doctor who examined Tusken never found any evidence of rape.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.


DULUTH, MN-- Monday will mark 100-years since the darkest day in Duluth's history.

Three African American men were lynched in downtown Duluth after being wrongly accused of raping a white woman.

After their horrific murders, another man named Max Mason was tried and convicted for the rape, despite a lack of evidence.

Friday, the Minnesota Board of Pardons will consider a posthumous pardon for Mason.

The Minnesota Board of Pardons has a chance to make history. "Minnesota has never granted a posthumous pardon in the past," said St. Louis Co. Attorney, Mark Rubin.

"He [Mason] was one of seven young black men who were accused of being involved in the sexual assault of a young woman," said Rubin.

The crime in question happened in 1920 after a woman claimed to be gang-raped by several black men in West Duluth while at a traveling circus event.

Those allegations incited a mob. "Three of the men that were held in custody were mister McGhie, Clayton and Jackson. They were lynched," said Rubin.

Now with The Board of Pardons looking at Max Mason's case, they asked St. Louis County Attorney, Mark Rubin to weigh in, given the crime happened in the county he represents.

Rubin had always heard of Mason's case but hadn't looked closely until recently. He said, "I was convinced after reading it. He was arrested cause he was black, he was tried, there wasn't enough evidence."

Mason was the only man of those accused to be convicted. While imprisoned, he was denied parole six times, according to the pardon application.

He was released in 1925 on the condition that he did not come back to Minnesota before 1942.

According to the application, The doctor who examined Irene Tusken, Mason's accuser, never found any evidence of rape.

Rubin said, "I concluded the right thing to do would be to support the request for a pardon. It's one of the few times I've ever done that."

Rubin mentioned the pardon application was filed early this year and just so happens to coincide with recent calls for racial justice reform.

"If there were ever a chance for mercy and for maybe some compassion for some understanding to come into play from the criminal justice system, this is probably a good time," said the county attorney.

The Minnesota Board of Pardons includes Governor Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison, and State Supreme Court Chief Justice Gildea.

Some local lawmakers have shown support for the posthumous pardon as well.

Duluth Representatives Liz Olson and Jennifer Schulz wrote a letter to the board stating in part:

"Any action you take won’t undo the horrific injustices that occurred in our community 100 years ago, but as we reach this century milestone of these events, you have the opportunity to provide for healing. We encourage a posthumous pardon extraordinaire."

You can find more information on the pardon request here.

Jessie Slater

Evening Anchor and Reporter

Skip to content