Minnesota’s Board of Pardons voted unanimously Friday to pardon Max Mason, a black man who was falsely accused and convicted of raping a white woman in 1920. The case also included the infamous lynching of three black men in the city of Duluth.
Democratic Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, who is a member of the pardons board, called the move “100 years overdue” and said the century-old case dispels the notion that lynchings “happened (only) in the Southern states,” the Associated Press reported. Attorney General Keith Ellison and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Lori Skjerven Gildea are the board’s two other members.
The allegations came from 19-year-old Irene Tusken and her boyfriend in June 1920, who claimed that six workers at the local circus raped Tusken at gunpoint. Mason and several other circus workers were arrested, despite the fact that Tusken’s own doctor found no evidence of sexual assault.
The case took a turn for the worst when three of the arrested workers — Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie — were dragged from their cells and lynched by a white mob June 15.
The City of Duluth apologized for the lynching in 2003 and dedicated a memorial in honor of the victims. Speaking about the lynchings, Ellison said in February that “the pain associated with it has not been healed and it’s reflected in the disparities.”
At the Monument at the Peace and Justice Memorial Center in Montgomery, AL. Attorney Jerry Blackwell and I stand before the 1920 Duluth Lynching Monument, as we work toward the 100 year commemoration in June 15th. pic.twitter.com/gMdDpTvhCx
— Keith Ellison (@keithellison) February 17, 2020
Mason was denied parole six times between 1922 and 1925, and was finally released in 1925 on the condition that he not return to the state for 16 years, according to the pardon application. Jerry Blackwell, the attorney who submitted the application, stated that the entirety of Mason’s case “was tainted and fairly characterized as racist and racially biased.”
One of the key supporters of the pardon was Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken, one of Irene Tusken’s grandnephews. He referred to the case as an “abomination” and a “disgrace to the police profession,” urging the pardons board to accept the application, CBS News reported.
After Mason’s pardon was granted, Walz stated that there was a direct connection between the 1920 case and “what happened to George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis.” (RELATED: Terrence Floyd, Brother Of George Floyd, Says ‘I’m Proud Of The Protests, But I’m Not Proud Of The Destruction’)
The state was home to George Floyd, who died in police custody May 25 in an incident that sparked nationwide protests against police brutality.