Leo Frank

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Leo Frank
photograph
Leo Frank
Born Leo Max Frank
(1884-04-17)April 17, 1884
Cuero, Texas
Died August 17, 1915(1915-08-17) (aged 31)
Marietta, Georgia
Cause of death
Lynching
Resting place
New Mount Carmel Cemetery, Glendale, Queens, New York
40°41′34″N 73°52′52″W / 40.69269°N 73.88115°W / 40.69269; -73.88115Coordinates: 40°41′34″N 73°52′52″W / 40.69269°N 73.88115°W / 40.69269; -73.88115
Monuments ADL monument 90th anniversary of founding, October 20, 2003, Mount Carmel Cemetery; Georgia historical marker, lynching site plaques, 1200 Roswell Street, Marietta, GA 30060
Residence Atlanta, Georgia
Nationality American
Education Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering (1906), pencil manufacturing apprenticeship (1908)
Alma mater Cornell University
Employer National Pencil Company in Atlanta
Religion Judaism
Criminal charge
Convicted on August 25, 1913, for the murder of Mary Phagan.
Criminal penalty
Sentenced on August 26, 1913, to hang. Commuted to life in prison on June 21, 1915.
Spouse(s) Lucille Selig
Parents Rudolph Frank and Rachel (Ray) Jacobs
Relatives Marian J. Stern (sister), Moses Frank (uncle)
Signature Leo Frank Signature.png

Leo Max Frank (April 17, 1884 – August 17, 1915) was a Jewish-American factory superintendent whose murder conviction and extrajudicial hanging in 1915 by a lynch mob planned and led by prominent citizens in Marietta, Georgia, drew attention to questions of antisemitism in the United States. Frank was posthumously pardoned in 1986 which the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles stated was "in an effort to heal old wounds," without officially absolving him of the crime.

An engineer and superintendent of the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, Frank was convicted on August 25, 1913, of the murder of one of his factory workers, 13-year-old Mary Phagan. She had been strangled on April 26 and was found dead in the factory cellar the next morning. Frank was the last person known to have seen her alive, and there were allegations that he had flirted with her before. His trial became the focus of powerful class, regional, and political interests. Raised in New York, he was cast as a representative of Yankee capitalism, a rich northern Jew lording it over vulnerable working women, as the historian Albert Lindemann put it. One year after the trial, former U.S. Representative Thomas E. Watson used sensational coverage of the appeal process in his own publications, calling Frank a member of the Jewish aristocracy who had pursued "Our Little Girl" to a hideous death. During the trial, Frank and his lawyers resorted to stereotypes, accusing another suspect — Jim Conley, a black factory worker who testified against Frank — of being especially disposed to lying and murdering because of his race.

There was jubilation in the streets when Frank was convicted and sentenced to death. By April 1915, his appeals had failed. Governor John M. Slaton, stating there may have been a miscarriage of justice, commuted the sentence to life imprisonment, to great local outrage. A crowd of 1,200 marched on Slaton's home in protest. Two months later, Frank was kidnapped from prison by a group of 25 armed men who called themselves "Knights of Mary Phagan". Frank was driven 170 miles to Frey's Gin, near Phagan's home in Marietta, and lynched. A crowd gathered after the hanging; one man repeatedly stomped on Frank's face, while others took photographs, pieces of his nightshirt, and bits of the rope to sell as souvenirs.

On March 11, 1986, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles granted Frank a pardon, citing the state's failure to protect him or prosecute his killers. The names of Frank's murderers were well known locally but were not made public until January 2000, when Stephen Goldfarb, an Atlanta librarian and former history professor, published the Phagan-Kean list on his website. The Washington Post noted that the list includes several prominent citizens — a former governor, the son of a senator, a Methodist minister, a state legislator, and a former state Superior Court judge — their names matching those on Marietta's street signs, office buildings, shopping centers, and law offices today.

Background[edit]

Leo Frank[edit]

Frank was born in Cuero, Texas[1] on April 17, 1884 to Rudolph Frank and Rachel "Rae" Jacobs.[2] The family moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1884 when Frank was three months old.[3] He attended New York City public schools and graduated from Pratt Institute in 1902. He then attended Cornell University, where he studied mechanical engineering. After graduation in 1906, Frank worked briefly as a draftsman and as a testing engineer.[4]

At the invitation of his uncle Moses Frank, Leo traveled to Atlanta for two weeks in late October 1907 to interview for a position with the National Pencil Company, a manufacturing plant in which Moses was a major shareholder.[5] Frank accepted the position, and traveled to Germany to study pencil manufacturing at Eberhard Faber in Bavaria. After a nine-month apprenticeship, Frank returned to the United States and began working at the National Pencil Company in August 1908.[4] Leo Frank became superintendent of the factory in September 1908.

Frank was introduced to Lucille Selig shortly after he arrived in Atlanta.[6] She came from a prominent and upper middle class Jewish family of industrialists who two generations earlier had founded the first synagogue in Atlanta.[7] Though she was very different from Frank, and laughed at the idea of speaking Yiddish, they were married in November 1910, at the Selig residence in Atlanta.[8]

Frank was elected president of the Atlanta chapter of the B'nai B'rith, a Jewish fraternal organization, in 1912.[9] The Jewish community in Atlanta was the largest in the South, and the Franks moved in a cultured and philanthropic milieu whose leisure pursuits included opera and bridge.[10][11] Although Frank was happy, he was not popular, as he was seen as a representative of Yankee capitalism. Although the American South was not known for its antisemitism, Frank's Jewish faith added to the sense that he was different.[12]

Mary Phagan[edit]

Mary Phagan

Mary Phagan (June 1, 1899 – April 26, 1913)[13] was born in Florence, Alabama, four months after her father William Joshua Phagan died of measles.[14] She was born into a family of tenant farmers who had farmed in Alabama and Georgia for generations. After her father died, Phagan's mother moved her family to East Point, Georgia in southwest Atlanta, where she opened a boarding house.[15] The children took jobs in the local mills. Phagan left school at the age of 10 to work part-time in a textile mill.[16] In 1911, a paper manufacturing plant owned by Sigmund Montag, treasurer of the National Pencil Company, hired her. In 1912, her mother, Frances Phagan, married John William Coleman, and she and the children moved into the city.[17] Phagan took a job with the National Pencil Company in the spring of 1912, where she ran a knurling machine that inserted rubber erasers into pencils' metal bands.[16] Mary Phagan earned $4.05 per week, working 55 hours and earning 7 and 4/11 cents per hour.[18] In comparison, Leo Frank earned $180 per month, plus a portion of the factory's profits.[19]

Murder[edit]

Discovery of body[edit]

One of the two murder notes found near the body

Phagan worked in the metal room on the second floor of the factory[20] in a section called the tipping department, down the hall from Frank's office. She had been laid off on April 21 due to a shortage of brass sheet metal.[21] About noon on April 26, she went to the factory to claim her pay of $1.20. At about 3 a.m. on April 27, the factory's night watchman, Newt Lee, went to the factory basement to use the "Negro" toilet.[22] Lee said he discovered the body of a dead girl and called the police, meeting them at the front door and leading them to the body. Mary Phagan's body was found dumped in the rear of the basement near an incinerator. Her dress was hiked up around her waist and a strip from her petticoat had been torn off and wrapped around her neck. Her face was blackened and scratched. Her head was bruised and battered. A seven-foot strip of quarter-inch wrapping cord tied into a loop was around her neck buried a quarter inch deep. Initially, there was an appearance of rape. Based on the ashes and dirt from the floor that were stuck to her skin, it appeared that she and her assailant had struggled in the basement.[23]

A service ramp at the rear of the basement led to a sliding door that opened into the alley; the police found it had been tampered with so it could be opened without unlocking it. Later examination found bloody fingerprints on the door, as well as a metal pipe that had been used as a crowbar.[24] Some evidence at the crime scene was improperly handled by the police investigators. The boards from the door with the bloody prints were removed and subsequently lost before any analysis could be done. Bloody fingerprints were found on the victim's jacket, but there is no indication that they were ever analyzed.[25] A trail in the dirt along which police believed Phagan had been dragged was trampled and no footprints were ever identified.[26]

Two notes were found in a pile of rubbish by Phagan's head, and became known as the "murder notes". One said: "he said he wood love me land down play like the night witch did it but that long tall black negro did boy his slef." The other said, "mam that negro hire down here did this i went to make water and he push me down that hole a long tall negro black that hoo it wase long sleam tall negro i write while play with me." The effect of the discovery was to cast suspicion on Newt Lee. During the trial, "night witch" was interpreted to mean "night watch[man]"; when the notes were read, night watchman Newt Lee said, "Boss, it looks like they are trying to lay it on me" (or words to that effect).[27][28]

Investigation and reporting[edit]

An Atlanta Georgian headline on April 29, 1913, showing that the police suspected Frank and Newt Lee.

On April 27, Frank said that Lee's time card was complete.[29] It was supposed to be punched every half hour during the watchman's rounds. On April 28, Frank said Lee had not punched the card at three or four intervals.[30] The police investigated a variety of suspects, and arrested both Lee and a young friend of Phagan's for the crime.[31] Gradually they became convinced that they were not the culprits. A detective sneaked into Lee's residence and found a blood-smeared shirt at the bottom of a burn barrel.[32] The blood was smeared high up on the armpits and the shirt smelled unused. The prosecution later claimed that the shirt had been planted by Frank in order to incriminate Lee.

The Atlanta Constitution broke the story of the murder and was soon in a frenzied competition with the Georgian for readers. The latter was a formerly sedate local paper bought by the William Randolph Hearst syndicate in 1912[33] and revamped using his standard formula of yellow journalism. As many as 40 extra editions came out the day Phagan's murder was reported. The Georgian published a doctored morgue photo of Phagan, in which her head was shown spliced onto the body of another girl. Some evidence went missing when it was 'borrowed' from the police by reporters. The two papers offered a total of $1,800 in reward money for information leading to the apprehension of the murderer.[34]

Suspicion falls on Frank[edit]

Newt Lee claimed he tried to call Leo Frank for eight minutes after the discovery of Phagan's body. The police later noted that Frank had not answered the phone when they called his house at 4 a.m., and that he seemed nervous when they took him to the undertaker at P. J. Bloomfield's Mortuary and to the factory. They considered his detailed answers on minor points as suspect and noted his trembling. Frank pointed out at the trial that the police had refused to tell him the nature of their investigation. Phagan's friend, 13-year-old pencil factory worker George Epps, came forward to say that Frank had flirted with Phagan and had frightened her.[35]

The police appeared to intimidate and influence witnesses, such as the Seligs' cook Magnolia "Minola" McKnight, and Nina Formby, the madam of a bordello. They both recanted statements made to the police, Formby indicating the police had "plied her with whisky".[36] Frank hired two Pinkerton detectives, along with agents from the Burns detective agency, to help him prove his innocence, although all later "publicly expressed their confidence that Frank was guilty beyond any question."[37] Though Frank produced alibis for the entire time during which the crime could have been committed, suspicion was aroused by his waiting a week to bring forward one crucial alibi witness, Lemmie Quinn. Gradually, however, the Georgian began to take Frank's side, responding to pressure from Atlanta's Jewish community. Meanwhile, the Constitution continued to criticize the police for their lack of progress.[38]

James "Jim" Conley[edit]

Jim Conley, the factory's janitor, is believed by some historians to be the murderer.[39] On May 1, the police arrested Conley after he was seen by the plant's day watchman, E. F. Holloway, washing a dirty blue work shirt. Conley tried to hide the shirt, then said the stains were rust from the overhead pipe on which he had hung it. Detectives examined it for blood, found none, and returned it. Conley was still in police custody two weeks later when he gave his first formal statement. He said that, on the day of the murder, he had been visiting saloons, shooting dice, and drinking at home. He offered some details, such as 40 cents spent on a bottle of rye, 90 cents won at dice, and 15 cents for beer, twice.[40] His story was called into question when a witness told detectives that "a black negro . . . dressed in dark blue clothing and hat" had been seen in the lobby of the factory on the day of the murder. Further investigation also determined that Conley could read and write, something he had initially denied.[41]

After initially sticking to his claim that he could not write, he was threatened with perjury charges. He was asked to write portions of the murder notes, and although the police found similarities in the spelling, he continued to deny having written them. The interview ended and Conley was placed in a basement isolation cell. A week later, on May 24, he called for a detective and admitted he had written the notes. In a sworn statement, he said Frank had called him to his office the day before the murder; he claimed Frank said he had some wealthy people in Brooklyn, and asked: "Why should I hang?"[42]

[H]e asked me could I write and I told him yes I could write a little bit, and he gave me a scratch pad and ... told me to put on there "dear mother, a long, tall, black negro did this by himself," and he told me to write it two or three times on there. I wrote it on a white scratch pad, single ruled. He went to his desk and pulled out another scratch pad, a brownish looking scratch pad, and looked at my writing and wrote on that himself.[43]

After testing Conley again on his spelling—he spelled "night watchman" as "night witch"—the police were convinced he had written the notes. They were skeptical about the rest of his story, not only because it implied premeditation by Frank, but also because it suggested that Frank had confessed to Conley and involved him.[44]

In a new affidavit (his second affidavit and third statement), Conley admitted he had lied about his Friday meeting with Frank. He said he had met Frank on the street on Saturday, and was told to follow him to the factory. Frank told him to hide in a wardrobe to avoid being seen by two women who were visiting Frank in his office. He said Frank dictated the murder notes for him to write, gave him cigarettes, and told him to leave the factory. Afterward, Conley said he went out drinking and saw a movie. He said he did not learn of the murder until he went to work on Monday.[45]

William Smith represented Conley, but in October 1914 said he believed his client to be guilty.[46]

The police were satisfied with the new story, and both The Atlanta Journal and the Georgian gave the story front-page coverage. Three officials of the pencil company were not convinced and said so to the Journal. They contended Conley had followed another employee into the building intending to rob her, but instead found Phagan was a more ready target.[47] The police placed little credence in the employees' theory, but had no explanation for the failure to locate the purse (that other witnessed had testified she carried that day),[48] and were concerned that Conley had made no mention that he was aware that a crime had been committed when he wrote the notes. To resolve their doubts, the police attempted on May 28 to arrange a confrontation between Frank and Conley. Frank exercised his right not to meet without his attorney, who was out of town. The police announced this refusal was an indication of Frank's guilt, and the meeting never took place.[49]

On May 29, Conley was interviewed for four hours.[50][51] His new affidavit said that Frank told him, "he had picked up a girl back there and let her fall and that her head hit against something." Conley said he and Frank took the body to the basement via the elevator, then returned to Frank's office where the murder notes were dictated. Conley then hid in the wardrobe after the two had returned to the office. He said Frank gave him two hundred dollars, but took it back, saying, “Let me have that and I will make it all right with you Monday if I live and nothing happens." Conley's affidavit concluded, "The reason I have not told this before is I thought Mr. Frank would get out and help me out and I decided to tell the whole truth about this matter."[52] At trial, Conley changed his story concerning the $200. He said the money was withheld until Conley had burned Phagan's body in the basement furnace.[53]

The Georgian hired William Manning Smith to represent Conley for $40. Smith was known for specializing in representing black clients, and had successfully defended a black man against an accusation of rape by a white woman. He had also taken an elderly black woman's civil case as far as the Georgia Supreme Court. Although Smith believed Conley had told the truth in his final affidavit, he became concerned that Conley was giving long jailhouse interviews with crowds of reporters. Smith was also concerned about reporters from the Hearst papers, who had taken Frank's side. He arranged for Conley to be moved to a different jail, and severed his own relationship with the Georgian.[54]

Hearings, sentencing, and clemency[edit]

The first day of the trial. Spectators were racially segregated. The stenographer can be seen next to Newt Lee, who is being questioned by prosecutor Hugh Dorsey.

Grand jury[edit]

In 1913, shortly after Leo Frank's arrest, Frank's family approached Thomas E. Watson with the offer of a substantial fee, in return for taking on Frank's legal defense. Watson, who opposed the death penalty, "enjoyed a formidable reputation" as a defense attorney in capital cases, but he declined the offer.[55] On May 24, 1913, a murder indictment was returned against Frank by a grand jury. The grand jury included five Jews. Historian Albert Lindemann suggests, "they were persuaded by the concrete evidence that [prosecutor] Dorsey presented."[19] Lindemann notes that none of Conley's testimony was presented to the grand jury and that at criminal trial, Dorsey "explicitly denounced racial anti-Semitism" and "indulged in ... philo-Semitic rhetoric."[19]

Trial[edit]

The trial began on July 28 at the Fulton County Superior Court (old city hall building). The courtroom was on the first floor and the windows were left open because of the heat. In addition to the hundreds of spectators inside, a large crowd gathered outside to watch the trial through the windows. Afterward the defense cited the crowds as factors in intimidation of the witnesses and jury in their legal appeals.[56] The State's prosecution team was made up of the Solicitor General Hugh M. Dorsey, Assistant Solicitor General Frank Arthur Hooper and E. A. Stevens. Frank was represented by eight lawyers (some of them jury selection specialists), led by Luther Z. Rosser. The defense used peremptory challenges to eliminate the only two black jurors. The prosecution case was that Conley's last affidavit was true, Frank murdered Phagan in the machine room (colloquially known as the metalroom), and the murder notes had been dictated by Frank in an effort to pin the crime on Lee. The defense case was that Conley was the murderer, he wrote the notes alone, assaulted Phagan in the lobby of the factory and his evidence was a fabrication.[57] The defense brought numerous witnesses who attested to Frank's alibi, which did not leave him enough time to have committed the crime.[58]

Leo Frank trial

Conley reiterated his testimony from his final affidavit. He added to it by describing Frank as regularly having sex with women in his upstairs office on Saturdays while Conley kept a lookout on the first floor lobby, and also claimed that he had seen Frank performing cunnilingus on female employees.[59] Another witness, C. Brutus Dalton who, like Conley, had a criminal record, corroborated Conley. Although Conley admitted that he had changed his story and lied repeatedly, this did not damage the prosecution's case as much as might have been expected, as he admitted to being an accessory.[60]

Many white observers did not believe that a black man could have been intelligent enough to make up such a complicated story. The Georgian wrote on 29 May, "Many people are arguing to themselves that the Negro, no matter how hard he tried or how generously he was coached, still never could have framed up a story like the one he told unless there was some foundation in fact."[61] Defense witnesses testified that there were too many people in the factory on Saturdays for Frank to have had trysts there. They pointed out that the windows of Frank's second-floor office lacked curtains. Though numerous girls testified to Frank having a bad character for lasciviousness, a larger number of female factory workers testified for the defense of Frank's good character when it came to women.[62]

Lead defense lawyer Luther Rosser.
Prosecutor Hugh Dorsey, later governor of Georgia

Frank spoke on his own behalf, making an unsworn statement as allowed by Georgia law; it did not permit any cross-examination without his consent, and none occurred.[63] Most of his four-hour speech consisted of a detailed analysis of the accounting work he had done the day of the murder.[64] He ended with a description of how he viewed the crime, along with an explanation of his nervousness: "Gentlemen, I was nervous. I was completely unstrung. Imagine yourself called from sound slumber in the early hours of the morning ... To see that little girl on the dawn of womanhood so cruelly murdered—it was a scene that would have melted stone."[65] In its closing statements, the defense attempted to divert suspicion from Frank to Conley. Lead defense attorney Luther Rosser, said to the jury: "Who is Conley? He is a dirty, filthy, black, drunken, lying, nigger."[66] Frank had issued a widely publicized statement questioning how the "perjured vaporizings of a black brute" could be accepted in testimony against him.[66]

The prosecutor compared Frank to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He said that Frank had killed Phagan to keep her from talking. With the sensational coverage, public sentiment in Atlanta turned strongly against Frank. The defense requested a mistrial because it felt the jurors had been intimidated, but the motion was denied.[67] In case of an acquittal, the judge feared for the safety of Frank and his lawyers, so he brokered a deal in which they would not be present when the verdict was read. Preparations were made to bring in the national guard, if needed.[68]

On August 25, Frank was convicted of murder. Two years later, a North Georgia newspaperman, who had attended the trial, wrote, "There is no use mincing words when a human life is at stake. If the jury in the Frank case had brought in a verdict of 'not guilty' the defendant would have been lynched."[68] The Constitution described the scene as Dorsey emerged from the steps of city hall: "The solicitor reached no farther than the sidewalk. While mounted men rode like Cossacks through the human swarm, three muscular men slung Mr. Dorsey on their shoulders and passed him over the heads of the crowd across the street."[69] Lindemann suggests "the powerless experienced a moment of exhilaration in seeing the defeat and humiliation of a normally powerful and inaccessible oppressor".[19]

Appeals[edit]

Populist politician and publisher Tom Watson printed sensationalistic coverage of the trial. Later, during the appeal process, he warned in the Jeffersonian: "If Frank's rich connections keep on lying about this case, SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN."[70]

Frank's appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court failed in November. The U.S. Supreme Court denied a writ of habeas corpus sought by Frank's lawyers. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, "I very seriously doubt if the petitioner ... has had due process of law ... because of the trial taking place in the presence of a hostile demonstration and seemingly dangerous crowd, thought by the presiding Judge to be ready for violence unless a verdict of guilty was rendered."[71] In October 1914, William Smith, Jim Conley's own lawyer, announced that he believed Conley had murdered Phagan.[72] A writ of error was issued allowing Frank to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard the appeal in April 1915. On April 19, in the case of Frank v. Mangum, the appeal was denied on a 7-2 vote.[73] Holmes and Charles Evans Hughes dissented, with Holmes writing, "It is our duty ... to declare lynch law as little valid when practiced by a regularly drawn jury as when administered by one elected by a mob intent on death."[74]

Commutation of sentence[edit]

On May 31, 1915, Frank pleaded to the Georgia State Prison Commission that his sentence be commuted to life imprisonment. On June 9, the Commission submitted a divided report, two against and one in support, to the departing Governor of Georgia, John M. Slaton.

Slaton reviewed more than 10,000 pages of documents, visited the pencil factory, and examined new evidence, including studies comparing Conley's speech patterns to the language of the murder notes.[75] The discovery of the undisturbed excrement in the elevator shaft directly contradicted Conley's claim that Conley and Frank had transported Phagan's body to the basement by the elevator. Conley admitted defecating at that spot before the alleged transport of the body, but the excrement was not smashed until the police later used the elevator themselves.[76] Slaton told reporters: "some of the most powerful evidence in Frank's behalf was not presented to the jury which found him guilty."[77] During the hearing, former Governor Brown warned Slaton, "In all frankness, if Your Excellency wishes to invoke lynch law in Georgia and destroy trial by jury, the way to do it is by retrying this case and reversing all the courts."[78]

On June 21, five days before Slaton's term as governor ended and one day before Frank was scheduled to hang,[79] Slaton commuted Frank's sentence to life in prison. "I can endure misconstruction, abuse and condemnation," Slaton said, "but I cannot stand the constant companionship of an accusing conscience which would remind me that I, as governor of Georgia, failed to do what I thought to be right.... Feeling as I do about this case I would be a murderer if I allowed this man to hang. It may mean that I must live in obscurity the rest of my days, but I would rather be plowing in a field for the rest of my life than to feel that I had that blood on my hands."[80]

Slaton wrote concerning the US Supreme Court's denial of Frank's appeal that there was "no error of law" in Frank's trial and that "there was sufficient evidence to sustain the [guilty] verdict."[81] On this latter point, he said the Court had ruled "correctly in my judgement"[81] and that he was "sustaining the jury, the judge, and the appellate tribunals."[81] His reason for commuting Frank's sentence to life imprisonment was that the Frank verdict fell in that "territory 'beyond a reasonable doubt and absolute certainty,' for which the law provides in allowing life imprisonment instead of execution. This case has been marked by doubt. The trial judge doubted. Two Judges of the Supreme Court of Georgia doubted. Two Judges of the Supreme Court of the United States doubted. One of the three Prison Commissioners doubted."[81] On the matter of bias against Frank as a Jew, Slaton wrote, "The charge against the State of Georgia of racial prejudice is unfair."[81]

Regarding the timing of the commutation, Steve Oney has said: "I think Slaton made a decision of conscience ... That said, there was a clear and troubling appearance of a conflict of interest". Governor Slaton was a law partner of Rosser, Frank's lead defense counsel. The incoming governor, Nathaniel Harris, was a close ally of Tom Watson, who supported Frank's conviction and execution.[82][83]

The public was outraged. A mob threatened to attack the governor at his home. A detachment of the Georgia National Guard, along with county policemen and a group of Slaton's friends who were sworn in as deputies, dispersed the mob.[84] Slaton had been a popular governor, but he and his wife left Georgia immediately thereafter.[77]

Frank was taken to the Milledgeville State Penitentiary, a minimum-security work farm, which officials thought would be more secure. On July 17, fellow inmate William Creen tried to kill him, slashing his throat with a seven-inch butcher knife and severing his jugular vein, according to The New York Times. The attacker told the authorities he wanted to keep the other inmates safe from mob violence, Frank's presence was a disgrace to the prison, and he was sure he would be pardoned if he killed Frank.[85]

Lynching[edit]

Knights of Mary Phagan[edit]

Joseph Mackey Brown (1851–1932), one of the ringleaders. He had served two terms as the Governor of Georgia, 1909–1911 and 1912–1913.

The June 21, 1915 commutation provoked Tom Watson into advocating for Frank's lynching.[70] He wrote in the pages of The Jeffersonian and Watson's Magazine: "This country has nothing to fear from its rural communities. Lynch law is a good sign; it shows that a sense of justice lives among the people."[86] A group of prominent men organized themselves into the "Knights of Mary Phagan", openly planning to kidnap Frank from prison. They recruited men with the necessary skills for a total of 28, including themselves; an electrician was to cut the prison wires, car mechanics were to keep the cars running, and there was a locksmith, a telephone man, a medic, a hangman, and a lay preacher.[87] The ringleaders were well known locally, but were not named publicly until June 2000, when a local librarian posted a list on the Web, based on information compiled by Mary Phagan's great-niece Mary Phagan Kean (b. 1953).[88] The list included a total of 28 men, including Joseph Mackey Brown, former governor of Georgia, Eugene Herbert Clay, former mayor of Marietta and later president of the Georgia Senate, E. P. Dobbs, mayor of Marietta at the time, Moultrie McKinney Sessions, lawyer and banker, part of the Marietta delegation at Governor Slaton's clemency hearing,[89] several current and former Cobb County sheriffs, and other individuals of various professions.

Kidnapping from prison[edit]

The man on the far right in the straw hat is Newton A. Morris, a superior court judge.[90] The man on the far left can be seen holding a camera.[91]

On the afternoon of August 16, the eight cars of the lynch mob left Marietta separately for Milledgeville. They arrived at the prison at around 10:00 pm, and the electrician cut the telephone wires, members of the group emptied the gas from the prison's automobiles, handcuffed the warden, seized Frank, and drove away. The 175 miles (282 km) trip took about seven hours at a top speed of 18 miles per hour (29 km/h) through small towns on back roads. Lookouts in the towns telephoned ahead to the next town as soon as they saw the line of open cars pass by. A site at Frey's Gin, two miles (3 km) east of Marietta, had been prepared, complete with a rope and table supplied by former Sheriff William Frey.[92]

Lynching[edit]

The New York Times reported Frank was wearing a nightshirt and undershirt, and the lynchers had tied a piece of brown canvas around his waist like a skirt. He was handcuffed, and his legs were tied at the ankles. They placed a new 3/4-in manila rope over his head, tied in a hangman's knot so it would force his head backwards and break his neck, and threw it over a branch of a tree. He was turned to face the direction of the house where Phagan had lived, and was hanged at around 7:00 am.[93] The Atlanta Journal wrote that the wound on his throat, caused when it was slashed in jail by another inmate, had reopened. A crowd of men, women, and children arrived on foot, in cars, and on horses, and souvenir hunters cut away parts of his shirt sleeves to take away.[94] According to The New York Times, one of the onlookers, Robert E. Lee Howell — related to Clark Howell, editor of The Atlanta Constitution — wanted to have the body cut into pieces and burned, and began to run around, screaming, whipping up the mob. Judge Newt Morris tried to restore order, and asked for a vote on whether the body should be returned to the parents intact; only Howell disagreed. When the body was cut down, Howell started stamping on Frank's face and chest; Morris quickly placed the body in a basket, and he and his driver John Stephens Wood drove it out of Marietta.[93][95]

In Atlanta, thousands besieged the undertaker's parlor, demanding to see the body; after they began throwing bricks, they were allowed to file past the corpse.[93] Frank's body was transported by rail on Southern Railway's train #36 from Atlanta to New York and was buried in the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Glendale, Queens, New York on August 20, 1915.[96] The New York Times wrote that the vast majority of Cobb County believed he had received his "just deserts," and that the lynch party had simply stepped in to uphold the law after Governor Slaton arbitrarily set it aside.[93] A Cobb County grand jury was convened to indict the lynchers; although they were well known locally, none were identified.[97]

Several photographs were taken of the lynching, which were published and sold as postcards in local stores for 25 cents each, a common practice after lynchings, along with pieces of the rope, Frank's nightshirt, and branches from the tree. According to Elaine Marie Alphin, they were selling so fast, the police announced that sellers required a city license.[98] Members of the lynch party or crowd can be seen in the postcards posing in front of the body, one of them holding a portable camera. Historian Amy Louise Wood writes that the local newspapers did not publish the photographs: it would have been too controversial, given that the lynch party can be seen clearly and that the lynching was being condemned around the country. The Columbia State, which opposed lynching, wrote: "The heroic Marietta lynchers are too modest to give their photographs to the newspapers." Wood also writes that a news film of the lynching was released, which included the photographs, though it focused on the crowds without showing Frank's body; its broadcast was prevented by censorship boards around the U.S., though according to Wood there is no evidence that it was stopped in Atlanta.[99]

Aftermath[edit]

Immediate aftermath[edit]

After Frank's lynching, around half of Georgia's 3,000 Jews left the state.[100] According to Frank scholar Steve Oney, “What it did to Southern Jews can’t be discounted.... It drove them into a state of denial about their Judaism. They became even more assimilated, anti-Israel, Episcopalian. The Temple did away with chupahs at weddings – anything that would draw attention.”[101] Many American Jews saw Frank as an American Alfred Dreyfus as both were perceived as being victims of antisemitic persecution.[102] In part because Frank was the president of the B'nai B'rith chapter in Atlanta, Georgia, Adolph Kraus, president of B'nai B'rith, invited 15 prominent members in Chicago to form the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith in September 1913, one month after Frank's conviction.[103]

Two weeks after the lynching, in the September 2, 1915 issue of The Jeffersonian, Watson wrote, "the voice of the people is the voice of God",[104] capitalizing on his sensational coverage of the controversial trial. In 1914, when Watson began reporting his anti-Frank message, The Jeffersonian's circulation had been 25,000; by September 2, 1915, its circulation was 87,000.[105] On November 25, 1915, months after Frank was lynched, members of the Knights of Mary Phagan burned a gigantic cross on top of Stone Mountain, inaugurating a revival of the Ku Klux Klan. The group was led by William J. Simmons and attended by 15 charter members and a few aging survivors of the original Klan.

Frank's widow, Lucille, did not remarry. She worked at the glove counter of the J.P. Allen store, and died April 23, 1957, of heart disease. In her 1954 will, she had requested to be cremated. Before her death, Lucille requested to family members that her ashes be spread in a local Atlanta park, but a local ordinance forbade it.[106] Atlanta magazine reported in 2003 that her ashes were stored for seven years in a local funeral home, until her family buried them secretly in a shoebox between the headstones of her parents in Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery, apparently worried that a funeral would stir up antisemitic action from the local Ku Klux Klan.[107]

(1982–1986) Alonzo Mann's affidavit, pardon[edit]

In 1982, Alonzo Mann, who had been Frank's office boy for three weeks at the time of Phagan's murder, told a journalist for the Tennessean newspaper, nearly 69 years after the trial ended, that he had seen Jim Conley alone shortly after noon in the factory carrying Phagan's body through the lobby toward the ladder descending to the basement.[108] This contradicted Conley's testimony that he moved Phagan's dead body to the basement by the elevator. Mann swore in an affidavit in the 1980s that Conley had threatened to kill him if he reported what he had seen. At the time of the events Mann was aged 14. After telling his family what he had seen, his parents made him swear not to tell anyone else. Mann explained that his statement was made in an effort to die in peace. He passed a lie detector test, and died three years later in March, 1985, at the age of 86.

Mann's deposition was the basis of an attempt to obtain a posthumous pardon for Frank from the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles. The effort was led by Charles Wittenstein, southern counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, and Dale Schwartz, an Atlanta lawyer, though Mann's testimony was not sufficient to settle the issue. The board also reviewed the files from Slaton's commutation decision.[109] It denied the pardon in 1983, hindered in its investigation by the lack of available records. Conley is believed to have died in 1962.[110][111] The state's files on the case were lost[112] and with them the opportunity to apply modern forensic techniques.[113] It concluded that, "After exhaustive review and many hours of deliberation, it is impossible to decide conclusively the guilt or innocence of Leo M. Frank. For the board to grant a pardon, the innocence of the subject must be shown conclusively."[114] At the time, the lead editorial in the Atlanta Constitution began, 'Leo Frank has been lynched a second time'.[115]

Frank supporters submitted a second application for pardon in 1986, asking the state only to recognize its culpability over his death. The board granted the pardon on March 11, 1986.[116] It said:

Without attempting to address the question of guilt or innocence, and in recognition of the State's failure to protect the person of Leo M. Frank and thereby preserve his opportunity for continued legal appeal of his conviction, and in recognition of the State's failure to bring his killers to justice, and as an effort to heal old wounds, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, in compliance with its Constitutional and statutory authority, hereby grants to Leo M. Frank a Pardon.[117]

Memorials and historical markers[edit]

In 1995, on the 80th anniversary of the lynching, a private plaque was placed on a building near the site of the hanging; it read "Wrongly accused. Falsely convicted. Wantonly murdered."[89] In 2008, a state historical marker was erected by the Georgia Historical Society, the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, and Temple Kol Emeth, near the building at 1200 Roswell Road, Marietta. The marker reads:

Near this location on August 17, 1915, Leo M. Frank, the Jewish superintendent of the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, was lynched for the murder of thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan, a factory employee. A highly controversial trial fueled by societal tensions and anti-Semitism resulted in a guilty verdict in 1913. After Governor John M. Slaton commuted his sentence from death to life in prison, Frank was kidnapped from the state prison in Milledgeville and taken to Phagan's hometown of Marietta where he was hanged before a local crowd. Without addressing guilt or innocence, and in recognition of the state's failure to either protect Frank or bring his killers to justice, he was granted a posthumous pardon in 1986.[118]

In 2003, the 90th anniversary of the Anti-Defamation League's founding, a monument dedicated by the ADL was placed near the inside entrance of the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Queens, NY.

Leo Frank: The trial of Leo Frank in 1913 was motivated by the rampant antisemitism of the time. The founding of the Anti-Defamation League that same year was motivated by a passion to eradicate such injustice and bigotry. Despite his innocence, Frank was abducted from jail in 1915 and lynched. ADL remembers the victim Leo Frank and rededicates itself to ensuring there will be no more victims of injustice and intolerance.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Frey p. 19.
  2. ^ Oney 2003, p. 10.
  3. ^ Dinnerstein 1987, p. 5.
  4. ^ a b Frey p. 20.
  5. ^ Oney 2003, p. 10.
  6. ^ Oney 2003, p. 80.
  7. ^ The Selig Company Building - Pioneer Neon Company. Marietta Street ARTery Association; Levi Cohen from her maternal lineage had participated in founding the first Synagogue in Atlanta.
  8. ^ Oney 2003, p. 84.
  9. ^ Oney 2003, p. 11.
  10. ^ Lawson pp. 211, 250.
  11. ^ Phagan p. 111.
  12. ^ Alphin 2010, p. 21ff, 25ff.
  13. ^ "Mary Phagan (1899 - 1913) - Find A Grave Memorial". August 8, 2000. Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  14. ^ Phagan p. 11.
  15. ^ Phagan p. 12.
  16. ^ a b Oney 2003, p. 5.
  17. ^ Phagan p. 14.
  18. ^ John Milton Gantt, former NPCo paymaster, testifying at the Coroner's Inquest, Atlanta Constitution, May 1913.
  19. ^ a b c d Lindemann, Albert S. (1991). The Jew Accused: Three Anti-Semitic Affairs (Dreyfus, Beilis, Frank), 1894-1915. Cambridge University Press. p. 251. ISBN 0-521-44761-5. 
  20. ^ Frey p. 5.
  21. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 8-9.
  22. ^ Dinnerstein 1987, p. 1.
  23. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 18–19.
  24. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 20–22.
  25. ^ Dinnerstein 1987, p. 4.
  26. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 30–31.
  27. ^ Golden pp. 19, 102.
  28. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 20–21, 379.
  29. ^ Oney 2003, p. 31.
  30. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 49-50.
  31. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 61-62.
  32. ^ Oney 2003, p. 65.
  33. ^ Oney 2003, p. 6.
  34. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 36, 60.
  35. ^ "Frank Tried to Flirt with Murdered Girl Says Her Boy Chum", The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, GA), May 1, 1913: Front page 
  36. ^ The New York Times, February 26, 1914.
  37. ^ Lindemann, Albert S. (1991). The Jew Accused: Three Anti-Semitic Affairs (Dreyfus, Beilis, Frank), 1894-1915. Cambridge University Press. p. 249. ISBN 0-521-44761-5. 
  38. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 96-97.
  39. ^ For example:
    • Lindemann 1992, p. 254: "The best evidence now available indicates that the real murderer of Mary Phagan was Jim Conley, perhaps because she, encountering him after she left Frank's office, refused to give him her pay envelope, and he, in a drunken stupor, killed her to get it.
    • Woodward 1963, p. 435: "The city police, publicly committed to the theory of Frank's guilt, and hounded by the demand for a conviction, resorted to the basest methods in collecting evidence. A Negro suspect [Conley], later implicated by evidence overwhelmingly more incriminating than any produced against Frank, was thrust aside by the cry for the blood of the 'Jew Pervert.'"
  40. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 118–119.
  41. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 128–129.
  42. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 129–132.
  43. ^ Oney 2003, p. 131.
  44. ^ Oney 2003, pp.133–134.
  45. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 134-136.
  46. ^ Dinnerstein 1987, pp. 114–115: "The new development which stirred Atlanta and those working to save Frank was the announcement, made on October 2, 1914, by William M. Smith, lawyer for Jim Conley, the state's key witness at the trial, that his own client had murdered Mary Phagan."
  47. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 134–136.
  48. ^ Oney 2003, p. 3
  49. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 137–138.
  50. ^ Oney 2003, p. 138.
  51. ^ Dinnerstein 1987, p. 24.
  52. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 139–140.
  53. ^ Oney 2003, p. 242.
  54. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 147–148.
  55. ^ Albert S. Lindemann. "The Jew Accused" New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991, p.260-264
  56. ^ Knight 1996, p. 1996.
  57. ^ Golden pp. 118-139.
  58. ^ Phagan, p. 105.
  59. ^ Golden p. 122.
  60. ^ For basic details of the murder, see Steinberg-Brent, pp. 95–100, 106; see p. 99 for the flirting allegation.
  61. ^ Ziedenberg, Gerald (2012). Epic Trials in Jewish History. AuthorHouse. p. 60. 
  62. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 308-311.
  63. ^ Oney 2003, p. 297.
  64. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 300-303.
  65. ^ Oney 2003, p. 303.
  66. ^ a b Levy, 2000.
  67. ^ Oney 2003, p. 339.
  68. ^ a b Dinnerstein 1987, pp. 60-61.
  69. ^ The New York Times, December 14, 1914.
  70. ^ a b Woodward 1963, p. 439.
  71. ^ Freedman, Eric M. (31 May 2003). Habeas Corpus: Rethinking the Great Writ of Liberty (Reissue ed.). New York University Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-0814727188. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  72. ^ Dinnerstein 1987, pp. 114–115.
  73. ^ US Supreme Court decision
  74. ^ Time, January 24, 1955.
  75. ^ "Slaton Here; Glad He Saved Frank", The New York Times, June 30, 1915.
  76. ^ Oney p. 489. Oney wrote, "Where in the past, Frank's lawyers had caught Conley in little lies, ones he blithely admitted, here, for the first time in an official forum [the clemency hearing], they had apparently caught him in a big lie, one that cast doubt on his entire testimony."
  77. ^ a b "Slaton Here; Glad He Saved Frank", The New York Times, June 30, 1915.
  78. ^ "Begin Last Frank Appeal to Governor", The New York Times, June 13, 1915.
  79. ^ Phagan, p. 168.
  80. ^ "A Political Suicide", Time magazine, January 24, 1955.
  81. ^ a b c d e The Leo Frank Trial: Clemency Decision of Governor John M. Slaton (June 21, 1915)
  82. ^ Dinnerstein, Leonard (1998). The Leo Frank Case. University of Georgia Press. pp. 123–4. ISBN 978-0-8203-2145-5. 
  83. ^ Associated Press. "Rabbi seeks NFL censure for remarks about 1915 lynching." September 8, 2000.
  84. ^ John M. Slaton (1866-1955), The New Georgia Encyclopedia.
  85. ^ For stories about the attack, see:
  86. ^ Woodward 1963, p. 432.
    • About two dozen people were lynched each year in Georgia; in 1915 the number was 22; see Oney 2003, p. 122.
  87. ^ Phagan, p. 223.
  88. ^ Emory University, Leo Frank Collection, Mary Phagan Kean's list of vigilance committee's members, Folder 16
  89. ^ a b Sawyer, June 20, 2000 For the list of alleged lynchers, see Goldfarb 2000 at the Wayback Machine (archived August 15, 2000).
  90. ^ "The lynching of Leo Frank" at the Wayback Machine (archived August 15, 2000), leofranklynchers.com, accessed August 22, 2010.
    • The New York Times wrote at the time that, after the lynching, it was Morris who got the crowd under control; see The New York Times, August 19, 1915. Years later, he was identified as one of the ringleaders; see Alphin 2009, p. 117.
  91. ^ Wood 2009, p. 77, and figure 3.3.
  92. ^ "Parties Unknown.", Boston Evening Transcript, August 24, 1915.
  93. ^ a b c d The New York Times, August 18, 1915.
  94. ^ The Atlanta Journal, August 17, 1915.
  95. ^ For Slaton's role, see Dinnerstein 1987, pp. 123–134.
    • For details of the lynching, see Coleman 1991, p. 292.
  96. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 573-576.
  97. ^ Alphin 2010, p. 123.
  98. ^ Alphin 2010, p. 122.
  99. ^ Wood 2009, pp. 77, 106, 148. Wood writes that Kenneth Rogers, the head of photography at the Atlanta Constitution and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution between 1924 and 1972, had access to at least one of the photographs, leaving it in the Kenneth Rogers Papers at the Atlanta History Center. She assumes he got it from the newspapers' archives, though the newspapers did not publish it; they accompanied their stories instead with images of the woods near the hanging, and of the crowds who viewed Frank's body later in the funeral parlor; see Wood, pp. 106, 288, footnote 59. See Alphin 2010, p. 122 for details of the souvenir sales.
  100. ^ Theoharis and Cox 1988, p. 45.
  101. ^ The Jewish Daily Forward May 13, 2009.
  102. ^ Oney 2003, p. 578.
  103. ^ Blakeslee 2000, p. 81.
  104. ^ Woodward 1963, p. 446.
  105. ^ Woodward 1963, p. 442.
  106. ^ Oney 2003, p. 628.
  107. ^ Freeman, October 2003, p. 98ff.
  108. ^ The Tennessean special news section, p. 15, in Dinnerstein, 1987.
  109. ^ Oney 2003, p. 684.
  110. ^ Golden p. 312.
  111. ^ Dinnerstein 1987, p. 158.
  112. ^ In 1947 shortly before his death, prosecutor Hugh Dorsey said he had the records in his possession. Seventeen years later, Dorsey's son James wrote in a private communication, "During the years since my father's death I am afraid that any old papers which he might have preserved have been lost or destroyed." Oney 2003, p. 647.
  113. ^ A journalist Pierre van Paassens, states in his 1964 memoirs that he saw courthouse records in 1922, containing evidence relating to teeth marks on Mary Phagan's body. "But the X-ray photos of the teeth marks on her body did not correspond with Leo Frank's set of teeth of which several photos were included." Van Paassen, Pierre (1964). To Number Our Days. New York, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 237–8. 
  114. ^ Oney, pp. 647–648.
  115. ^ Dinnerstein, Leonard (October 1996). "The Fate Of Leo Frank", American Heritage (magazine), Vol. 47, Issue 6, accessed May 15, 2011.
  116. ^ Oney, pp. 647–648.
  117. ^ Dinnerstein 2009.
  118. ^ Leo Frank Lynching: Georgia Historical Society, The Georgia Historical Society, accessed October 28, 2014.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Books, Booklets and Reviews
Internet Digital Media and Analysis
Newspapers, Magazines, Periodicals, Journals
Legal Documents
Historical Archives
Dissertations
Dramatizations
  • During the trial an Atlanta musician and millworker, Fiddlin' John Carson, wrote and began performing a murder ballad, "Little Mary Phagan." During the mill strikes of 1914 Carson sang "Little Mary Phagan" to crowds from the Fulton County courthouse steps. An unrecorded Carson song, "Dear Old Oak in Georgia," sentimentalizes the tree from which Leo Frank was hanged.
  • The 1964 television series "Profiles in Courage" dramatized Governor John M. Slaton's decision to commute Frank's sentence, The episode starred Walter Matthau as Governor Slaton and Michael Constantine as Tom Watson.
  • People v. Leo Frank (2009), information about this film that was previously shown on PBS.
  • Jamie Saft wrote a song, The Ballad of Leo Frank. The story of Frank's trial and eventual lynching is included in the liner notes of Saft's album entitled Black Shabbis.
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