Dark skin was a crime—both to Mr. Clark and to the ten thousand other toughs and troublemakers who had taken to the streets outside the local jail. It was a massive mob. Some carried ropes. Others clenched crowbars or hammers. But all seemed to be keen on getting revenge on the Negro circus workers who were being held as suspects for the purported rape of a white girl. It was “purported” because the doctor who had examined the girl did not think she had been ravished. Plus, other folks suspected she was a liar.
The vigilantes wore no masks, but for all practical purposes, they were invisible due to their impressive number. They equaled a full one-third of the local population. The on-duty cops hoped to arrest some of the instigators and plunderers, but saw only a sheet of nondescript white faces stark against the backdrop of the Minnesota sky.
Mr. Clark joined five other rabble-rousers in the back of a green Ford pickup truck. The group rode down Superior Street and through the business district, riling up the crowd.
“Let’s hang the black niggers,” Mr. Clark yelled to passers-by. “Join the necktie party.”
Folks in the street flashed smiles or raised their fists in a show of support. An elderly fellow in Mr. Clark’s truck had a pistol from the army surplus, while a younger man placed a noose around his own neck and pretended to be choking in a display of theatrics.
Around ten p.m., bricks were hurled through the police station’s windows. Sledgehammers destroyed the front door, and water from a fire hose gushed into the building, creating ankle-deep pools. Dozens of agitators stormed into the prisoner holding area to find the coloreds in their cells. Mr. Clark did his part by sawing at the twisted steel bars while teams of others used railway iron rams to pound at the enclosures. There were sounds of banging, chiseling, hooting, and cursing mixed in with the whimpering and pleading by the colored boys. It was a regular cacophony. The police were dreadfully undermanned and beside themselves with distress. They knew they could not fend off the irate crowd or get outside assistance (such as from the state militia) in time to save the Negroes’ lives.
An hour later, angry white men gained access to the scared black prisoners. Two Negroes were dragged out to a lamppost at the corner of Second Avenue East and First Street, where they were taunted by the turbulent crowd. They were socked and kneed. Their jackets and shirts were ripped from their bodies and nooses were placed around their necks.
“The less you kick, the less you’ll hurt,” Mr. Clark hollered at one of them.
“Lynch him!” Another man bellowed. “To hell with the law!”
The first Negro was strung up and killed. Then, the second was raised up the pole. He went into dying convulsions to plaudits from the crowd. Mr. Clark and a few other men went back into police headquarters for a third Negro, who was then toted out to the same lamppost. A rope was placed around his neck and his body was lifted into the air. The man squirmed and twitched. Then he was still.