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Tue, 09.11.1866

Charles Scrutchin, Minnesota lawyer in the 1920 Duluth lynching

Charles Scrutchin

Charles Scrutchin was born on this date in 1866. He was an African American lawyer.

Charles W. Scrutchin was born in Richmond, VA, to Barbara Grafrene and William Scrutchin. The family moved to Georgia when he was 10 years old, and moved again when he was a teenager to Spokane, WA., where he graduated from high school. In 1890, Scrutchin got his undergraduate degree--which he accomplished in three years--from the University of Washington.

He worked as a Pullman porter and hotel waiter in Detroit, Buffalo, and St. Paul, MN before deciding to go to law school. After a failed marriage, Scrutchin at 25 entered the law school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He graduated in 1893, relocated to Chicago, and began his practice under Edward H. Morris.

In 1894, he went back to Ann Arbor to get his Master's degree and four years later arrived in St. Paul. There he became friends with two Black lawyers, Frederick McGhee and William T. Francis. Later, in 1898, Scrutchin started practicing law in Bemidji, MN.

Scrutchin married Laura P Arnold in 1900, and like many of his professional peers, he grounded his practice in criminal law. During his first year, he won an acquittal for a man charged with stealing 10 tons of hay.

One of his most dramatic cases was his representation of William Miller, one of the 11 accused Black American circus workers who were charged with the rape of a white woman in Duluth. Three of Miller's fellow workers were hanged in what has come to be known as the Duluth Lynching. This happened on the night of June 14, 1920, by a white mob of 5,000. Scrutchin got an acquittal for Miller that resulted in the dismissal of the charges against the other defendants.

A successful lawyer, his practice allowed him to purchase two homes and an office building in Bemidji. He was a Republican, a Unitarian, a Mason, and a member of Odd Fellows.

Charles W. Scrutchin died of dropsy/apoplexy on July 14 1930 in Beltrami Co. MN.

Reference:
Minnesota Historical Society
345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
Saint Paul, MN 55102-1906

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