Video by Michelle Truax/
Article by Teri Cadeau, Duluth News Tribune

For the past two years, the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial Board has been gathering oral histories from elders and leaders from Duluth’s African-American community.

A new exhibit — “The Life, the Work, the Fight: Black Duluth in History” — features excerpts from those oral histories and photos of the elders along with broader historical information. It will be on display through February at the Zeitgeist Atrium Gallery in Duluth.

“This is a preliminary exhibit,” said Heidi Bakk-Hansen, project director and historical researcher. “This is just the first go to let people see what we’re up to. It’s to let people know that this is there and it’s theirs. It belongs to the people.”

The project combines excerpts of recent oral histories of African-American elders in Duluth with historical profiles dating back to the late 19th century to show the depth and complexity of the journey throughout the history of Duluth.

“Recognizing history is essential to progress,” curator Jordon Moses said. “I think it’s important for us to understand what has happened before so that we can better understand the environment in which we currently live. History holds countless lessons and I think we would be naive to ignore those teachings.”

Moses said he hopes the exhibit will engage different groups of people.

“This exhibit is one way to make history tangible for folks who may find it inaccessible,” Moses said. “Hopefully, this effort can help us expand the love and appreciation for history, especially the history of those who have been systematically erased from western narratives.”

Photographer Daniel Oyinloye said he learned more from the elders as he took portraits of each of the nine individuals.

“What stood out to me is how each of these leaders have struggled with various problems that still exist in some form today,” Oyinloye said. “But you also see how they’re all connected. They have shared histories that show a tight community of amazing people.”

The exhibit also features stories from black history in Duluth, which Bakk-Hansen said is often overlooked.

“It turns out that really the only black history people know about Duluth is the lynching. And that is not all of black history in Duluth and people need to know that,” Bakk-Hansen said, referring to the 1920 lynching of three black men who were falsely accused of raping a white woman. “Especially since that story is only one piece of who we are. There’s a lot else to talk about.”

• Interested in the oral history project? Contact the CJMM board via email at or leave a comment in the guestbook at the exhibit.