Minnesota pardons black man in century-old lynching case

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Star Tribune

In this May 30, 2020 photo, a protestor holds up a photo of George Floyd in front of the Clayton, Jackson, McGhie Memorial as part of a large protest in Duluth, Minn. The states Board of Pardons, consisting of Gov. Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison and the chief justice of the states Supreme Court Lorie Skjerven Gildea, will vote Friday, June 12, to clear Max Mason of a rape case that led to the only known lynching of Black people in the states history 100 years ago next week. (Alex Kormann/Star Tribune via AP)

A black man imprisoned in Minnesota a century ago in a case that included the infamous lynchings of three other black man for the alleged rape of a white woman received a posthumous pardon Friday, with Gov. Tim Walz connecting the historic injustice to the death of George Floyd.

Minnesota's pardons board voted 3-0 to pardon Max Mason, one of several traveling circus workers accused in the 1920 case. Walz, a member of the board, called it “100 years overdue” and said Minnesota for too long believed that lynchings “happened (only) in the Southern states.”

“There is a direct line between what happened with Max Mason ... to what happened to George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis,” the Democratic governor said, referring to the May 25 death that has become a flashpoint in a national movement against police brutality and racism.

Attorney General Keith Ellison and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Lori Skjerven Gildea also voted to grant the pardon.

“(Mason's) criminal justice process, from his first encounter with the police all the way through to his parole, was tainted and fairly characterized as racist and racially biased,” Jerry Blackwell, the attorney who wrote the pardon application, told the board. “With nothing but the accusation and claim of innocence by a white woman and her boyfriend.”

The allegation came from a young man who attended the circus with 19-year-old Irene Tusken in June 1920 and who said six workers forced the couple at gunpoint into a ravine and raped Tusken, according to a case summary prepared for the board.

The man did not mention any attack when dropping off Tusken at her parents’ house but related the story to his father the next morning, the summary said.

Several workers, including Mason, were arrested, but neither Tusken nor the young man could identify any of them as alleged attackers, and a family doctor found no evidence of sexual assault of Tusken, the summary said. Mason was allowed to travel to the circus’ next city, but was re-arrested the next day, and eventually identified as an attacker by Tusken and the young man.