May 16, 1949: Death of Father Powers 

On this day in 1949 Father William Powers, pastor of the Sacred Heart Cathedral at 201 West Fourth Street, passed away. A powerful man and former athlete, Powers was well-liked and considered a great orator. On June 15, 1920, Powers saw the unruly mob that attacked police headquarters and abducted three young black men falsely accused of raping a white girl. He entered the throng at the corner of Second Avenue East and First Street and tried desperately to calm the mob and prevent any lynchings. Powers pleaded with the crowd. When he saw a rope placed around the neck of Isaac McGhie, one of the accused, Powers pushed several men out of the way and climbed the light pole to be better seen and heard. According to historian Michael Fedo, the crowd “fell uneasily silent” and Powers spoke: “Men, you don’t know this man is guilty. I know this crime is the most horrible one, but let the law take its course. It’s not too late to stop this tragedy, men. In the name of God and the church I represent, I ask you to stop.” The crowd responded with shouts of “Lynch him!” and several men pulled the priest off the pole, and he tried to climb it again. Within minute, the crowd had lynched McGhie and would soon hang two more innocent men. Father Powers later transferred to a church in Eveleth, Minnesota. Read more about Duluth’s 1920 lynchings here, and about the 1918 lynching of Finnish immigrant Oli Kinkkonen here.

A lithographic postcard of Sacred Heart Cathedral made between 1900 and 1915. (Image: Zenith City Press)