Blackwell Burke Collaborates with Community to Secure First Posthumous Pardon in Minnesota History

Blackwell Burke P.A. collaborated with the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, Inc., the Minnesota Historical Society, members of the Federal Bar, and other supporters, to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the wrongful criminal conviction of Max Mason and the brutal lynching of three Black circus workers in Duluth – the only lynchings in Minnesota’s history. 

Firm Founder and CEO, Jerry W. Blackwell, led a request for the posthumous pardon of Max Mason, a man who was accused of rape 100 years ago, in front of the Minnesota Board of Pardons on June 12. Governor Tim Walz, state Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea and Attorney General Keith Ellison approved the posthumous pardon extraordinary of Mason, who served five years in prison after an all-white jury convicted him. This was the first posthumous pardon in Minnesota history.

Mason was accused of raping a white woman in Duluth in 1920, along with several other black men. Three of those men, Elias, Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie, were lynched in downtown Duluth while nearly 10,000 people watched. There was no evidence to support the allegations against Mason or the three other men, who were killed while Mason was repeatedly denied justice.

“Four black men paid with their very lives based overwhelmingly on an implausible claim of victimhood and the fortuity of having been born black and passing through Duluth at the wrong time,” said Blackwell during the pardon hearing.

Along with Blackwell, Mike Tusken, Duluth police Chief and grandnephew of the alleged victim, and Rogier Gregoire with the Clayton, Jackson, McGhie Memorial based in Duluth, also testified to the importance of granting a pardon to Mason.

Jerry Blackwell addresses the audience at the commemoration in Duluth.

“Mr. Mason was a victim of that very atmosphere of racial terrorism and a criminal justice process that was biased against him and that failed him,” Blackwell said. “Grant Max Mason’s pardon because the rule of law matters. Equal justice matters. It matters to correct this wrong of history to help restore and maintain confidence in our criminal justice system today that has been lost and is marching on our streets right now in protest. It matters to say we are serious about needed reforms.”

The Pardon Board unanimously granted the application for Mason’s pardon. This effort of taking a significant step to right a wrong in the history of the State of Minnesota was years in the making and included support and contributions from many in the community. Attorney General Ellison shared just a few of the community groups and individuals who sent letters and offered support of the pardon including the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers (MABL), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA), Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA), Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, former governors and leaders of the State of Minnesota, the St. Louis County Attorney, the Mayor of Duluth, and the list goes on.

Several Blackwell Burke attorneys worked on this case including Corey L. Gordon who spearheaded the Firm’s participation in the Duluth commemoration project and co-authored the pardon application with Ben W. Hulse, Charmaine Harris, Ted Hartman, Gene Hummel, Tony Atwal in addition to Jerry Blackwell. MABL past president, Spiwe L. Jefferson drafted MABL’s letter of support and collaborated with MABL’s leadership in its submission. “As officers of the law, we each have a moral and legal obligation to fight to eradicate injustice in its myriad forms. This was a very important project to me personally – as well as to our Firm – to do our part to right a wrong that had stood intact for a century,” said Gordon.  

The pardon application can be downloaded here.

The video of the hearing is available to the public.

The video of the commemoration is also available for viewing.

This case has received broad media coverage in national and local markets.

MPR News


Duluth News Tribune

Washington Post


About Blackwell Burke P.A.

Blackwell Burke is a certified minority-owned trial firm that represents corporate clients in high stakes class actions, mass torts, MDLs and commercial litigation, both at trial and on appeal. The firm has been repeatedly recognized as one of the top litigation defense firms in the country by BTI, Chambers, Best Lawyers and others. Benchmark Litigation named Blackwell Burke the Minnesota Firm of the Year in each of the last four years.