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Lucille and Leo Frank at Frank's trial.

Leo Max Frank (April 17, 1884 – August 17, 1915) was an American man who became the only known Jew to be lynched on American soil.[1][2][3] The manager of his uncle's pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia, Frank was convicted of the rape and murder of one of his factory workers, 13-year-old Mary Phagan. The case is widely regarded as having been a miscarriage of justice.[4]

It was the focus of many conflicting cultural pressures, and the jury's conclusion represented, in part, class and regional resentment of educated Northern industrialists who were perceived to be wielding too much power in the South, threatening Southern culture and morality.[5][6] The trial was sensationalized by the media. The publisher and former U.S. Representative Thomas E. Watson used the case to build personal political power and support for a revival of the Ku Klux Klan.[7]

Shortly after Frank's conviction, new evidence emerged that cast doubt on his guilt.[8] After the governor commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment, Frank was kidnapped from prison and lynched by a group of prominent citizens who called themselves the Knights of Mary Phagan.[9] They included the son of a senator, a former governor,[10] a Methodist minister[11] business owners and a number of lawyers, including a prosecutor.[12]

In response to the Frank case, the B'nai B'rith founded the Anti-Defamation League in 1913. Ultimately, in 1986, Georgia granted Frank a pardon.


Early life

Leo Frank and Lucille Selig, 1909, a year before their marriage.

Leo Frank was born in Cuero, Texas on April 17, 1884, to Rudolf and Rae Frank. His family moved to Brooklyn, New York, shortly after his birth. He was a student at Brooklyn public schools and Pratt Institute.[13][14] He earned a mechanical engineering degree at Cornell in 1906.

An uncle of Frank's, said to be a Confederate veteran, owned a large share of the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, and in 1908 hired his nephew to be its superintendent. Frank traveled to Massachusetts, New York, and Germany for further apprenticeships in pencil manufacturing. He married Lucille Selig in 1910. Lucille came from a wealthy family of industrialists who two generations earlier had founded the first synagogue in Atlanta.[15] By 1913 Leo Frank was the president of the Atlanta chapter of the B'nai B'rith. 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, bridge and tennis.[citation needed]

Relation to Mary Phagan

Mary Phagan

Mary Phagan was born four months after her father died, into a family that had farmed in Georgia for generations.[16] Mrs. Phagan moved with her six children to live with her parents on their farm near the country town of Marietta, then to East Point, nearer Atlanta, where she ran a boardinghouse and where her children, as they attained working age, took jobs in the local mills.[17] Mrs. Phagan remarried in 1912 and she and her four younger children moved into Atlanta, to a neighborhood called Bellwood. At age twelve Mary was hired at the National Pencil Company, where she ran a machine that inserted rubber erasers into pencils' metal bands.[18] Mary had worked at the pencil factory for about a year. The week before her murder, a shortage of supplies at the factory had led to a reduction in her hours. Her wages, usually about $5.00, this week came to $1.20.[19]

On Saturday, April 26, 1913, celebrated locally as Confederate Memorial Day, she came to the factory to claim her pay before going to see the parade with her friend George Epps, a fellow factory worker. Her pay was issued to her by Frank. According to the testimony in the trial, Leo Frank was the last person to see Mary Phagan alive.

Murder investigation

One of the 'murder notes.'

At 3:00 a.m. on April 27, the police received a call from the factory's night watchman, Newt Lee, reporting the discovery of a dead girl.

When the police arrived at the factory, they found Phagan's mangled body in a dark, dirty basement next to a furnace. Phagan had been strangled with a 2-cm (3/4-inch) cord, and apparently raped. Some evidence at the crime scene was lost, including bloody fingerprints, and a trail in the dirt along which Phagan had been dragged, leading from the elevator shaft.[citation needed]

At first, Frank said that Newt Lee's time card was complete. It was supposed to be punched every half hour during the watchman's rounds. However, Frank later said Newt Lee had not punched the card at three intervals.

The police investigated a variety of suspects, and arrested both Newt Lee and a young friend of Phagan's for the crime. Gradually they became convinced that they were not the culprits. A detective sneaked into Newt Lee's apartment and found a blood-soaked shirt. The prosecution later claimed that the shirt had been planted by a Frank crony in order to incriminate Lee.

Suspicion did not fall on Frank immediately in the beginning of the investigation. The police noted that Frank had not answered the phone when they called his house at 4 a.m., and that he seemed extremely nervous when they forced him to go to the factory with them before dawn. They took his detailed answers on minor points as a sign of suspicion. Frank was trembling so strongly that he could not carry out simple physical tasks. Frank pointed out at the trial that the police had refused to tell him the nature of their investigation when they arrived at his house in the middle of the night and made him accompany them to the factory, which was a legitimate reason why he was so extremely nervous.

The Atlanta Constitution broke the story. Soon after there was a frenzied competition for readers between the Constitution and the Georgian, a formerly sedate local paper that had recently been bought by the Hearst syndicate and revamped to compete using the standard Hearst 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.[citation needed]

Some evidence went missing when it was 'borrowed' from the police by certain reporters. The two papers offered a total of $1,800 in reward money for information leading to the apprehension of the murderer. The high reward offer elicited excessive leads that the police found to be false or irrelevant.

Two notes were found in the basement next to Mary Phagan's body, supposedly written by Phagan as she was being raped and dying, accusing a tall dark skinned Negro like the "night witch" (Night Watch) of killing her. These came to be known as the "murder notes" and resulted in the night watchman becoming the prime suspect immediately in the beginning of the investigation. Jim Conley, the pencil factory's black janitor, was also a major suspect in the case. Jim Conley changed his conflicting story several times to the police, finally claiming in a signed affidavit that he had written the notes and they were dictated to him by Leo Frank. Conley claimed that Frank wasn't content with the first murder letter and made him write a second one. An expert in writing analysis would testify at the trial that the two letters were indeed written by Jim Conley.

Suspicion falls on Frank

A newspaper headline trumpeting Frank's guilt.

Phagan's friend, 13-year-old fellow pencil factory worker George Epps, came forward with damning testimony, to say that Frank had often flirted inappropriately with Phagan and frightened her with intense staring.

Minola McKnight, the African-American housekeeper for Lucille Frank's parents who also cooked for Leo Frank's family, was brought in for questioning. At first she corroborated Frank's story concerning the times he arrived home for lunch and then returned to the factory the day of the murder. She was agitated, believing her estranged husband had been telling lies to the police to get her in trouble. She said both she and Frank were innocent.

After spending the night in jail and after intense questioning, McKnight signed a statement saying Leo Frank was very nervous and drinking heavily the night after the murder of Mary Phagan. She said she overheard Frank's wife say he made her sleep on the rug and Frank kept asking for his pistol so he could shoot himself. She said that Frank had told her, "It is mighty bad, Minola. I might have to go to jail about this girl, and I don't know anything about it." Finally she said her wages had been raised as a "tip to keep quiet."

The police and investigators appeared to intimidate and threaten witnesses such as Nina Formby, the madam of a bordello who knew Frank. Frank called her on the day of the murder looking to reserve a private room at the bordello. Both Nina Formby and Minola McKnight recanted statements made to the police well after the trial and conviction when they were far away from police. Formby indicated the police had "plied her with whiskey."[20]

Frank hired the Pinkerton detective agency, considered the best in the industry, to help him prove his innocence. Some observers interpreted this negatively, as the Pinkerton agency had a reputation as the violent enforcers for American industrialists. Frank later produced alibis for the entire time during which the crime could have been committed; however, suspicion was aroused by the fact that he waited over a week — saying that he had forgotten — to bring forward one crucial witness, Lemmie Quinn. Gradually, however, the Georgian began to take Frank's side, responding to outrage from Atlanta's Jewish community. Meanwhile, the Constitution continued to criticize the police for their slow progress.

Jim Conley

Jim Conley, 1913.

On May 1, Jim Conley, the pencil factory's janitor, was caught by the plant's day watchman, E.F. Holloway, washing a dirty shirt. Conley tried to hide the shirt, then claimed the stains on the shirt were from "rust." Conley denied under oath that he was literate, had a grade-school education and could read and write. This would later become crucial with regard to the murder notes.

The factory foreman, Holloway, told the Georgian that he believed Conley "strangled Mary Phagan while about half drunk," resulting in a May 28 headline reading, "SUSPICION TURNED TO CONLEY; ACCUSED BY FACTORY FOREMAN." Seeing the headline, Conley conjured up a new story: an agitated Frank, in a dramatic meeting in the dark, ordered him to hide in a wardrobe to avoid being seen by two women, then later dictated the murder notes to him, gave him cigarettes and told him to leave the factory.[citation needed] Afterward, Conley went out drinking and saw a movie. Phagan's $1.20 in pay had also disappeared, leading the police to wonder whether Conley might have killed her for the money. The police asked Frank to confront Conley. Frank refused because his lawyer was out of town, though even when Rosser returned, no meeting took place.

William Smith, who represented Conley, yet after the trial declared Conley guilty of the murder. (Dinnerstein, p. 114-115)

Under further pressure from the police regarding the discrepancies in his story, Conley gave another version. In this account he gave his final statement. Conley stated that the reason he had lied in the beginning of the investigation and did not immediately tell the truth was that he had been trying to cover for Leo Frank. He said that Frank originally offered him $200 on the day of the murder to destroy the body and evidence; that Frank had asked him to move Phagan's body and dispose of it by burning it in the basement furnace. When the police asked Conley where the $200 was that Frank had given him, Conley responded that when he wouldn't immediately burn Phagan's body for Frank in the basement furnace, Frank had asked to see the money, had taken it back, folded it and put it in his pocket, then told Conley that if he came back later and disposed of the body in the furnace he would get the $200 back. Conley also said that Frank, in foreshadowing words, told him on the day of the murder, "Why should I hang? I have wealthy people in Brooklyn."

The Georgian hired William Smith to be Conley's lawyer and offered to pay his fees. Smith was known for specializing in representing black clients. Although this put Smith at the bottom of the professional totem pole, he 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 state 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 concerned about reporters from the Hearst papers, who had taken Frank's side. Smith arranged for Conley to be moved to a different jail. He also severed his own relationship with the Georgian.[citation needed]

Two unsworn witnesses came forward to incriminate Conley. Will Green, a carnival worker, said that he had been playing craps at the factory with Conley and had run away from him when Conley had declared his intention to rob a girl who walked by. William Mincey, an insurance salesman, had met an intoxicated Conley on the street. He said that Conley, trying to brush Mincey off, said, "I have killed one today and do not wish to kill another." Mincey had thought it was a joke. Neither man signed an affidavit or testified in court.[21]

National media coverage

When the national media discovered the Mary Phagan cold case they released sensational headlines and news stories, instantly capturing the public's attention with much fanfare and creating a national spectacle. The various national news networks during the murder investigation published every new detail of back and forth hearsay, gossip, conflicting rumors and shifting conspiracy theories. The media, by garnering such great interest in the murder so early on, would transform the sum total of the investigation, trial and outcome of the trial into a huge financial windfall for the collective national media covering the case. Ravenous sales and sold-out publications resulted because a nailbiting public became insatiably hungry for morning, afternoon and daily updates of every minute emerging detail of the investigation, the trial and the final outcome of the case. The three major Atlanta newspapers published meticulous accounts of the trial's daily testimony. These accounts are the most detailed and documented record that remains of the proceedings; in the 1960s the official Leo Frank trial transcripts disappeared from the courthouse archive room.[22] However, a slightly abridged, annotated version of the transcripts was published in 1918 in Volume X of Lawson's American Trials series.[23]

Grand jury indictment

The first day of the trial. The area shown in the photo was surrounded by racially segregated seats for spectators. The stenographer can be seen squatting next to Newt Lee, who is being questioned by prosecutor Hugh Dorsey.

On May 24, 1913, a murder indictment was returned against Leo Frank after less than 10 minutes of deliberation by a grand jury which included five Jews. Author Lindemann suggests, "[T]hey were persuaded by the concrete evidence that [prosecutor] Dorsey presented."[24] 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."[24]


Frank's trial began on July 28, 1913.[25] Because of the heat, the windows were left open. In addition to the hundreds of spectators inside, numerous people gathered outside the city hall to watch the trial through the windows, a circumstance that became important as a factor in witness and jury intimidation.[26]

Lead defense lawyer Luther Rosser.

The prosecutor was Hugh M. Dorsey. Frank was represented by a team of eight lawyers, some of them jury selection specialists, led by Luther Rosser. The defense used peremptory challenges to eliminate the only two black jurors. After peremptory challenges both the defense and prosecution agreed to a jury of twelve white men, five of whom were Jews.

The prosecution's theory was that Conley's affidavit explaining the immediate aftermath of the murder was true, claimed Frank was the murderer, and that the murder notes had been dictated by Frank in an effort to pin the crime on Newt Lee, the night watchman.

The defense's theory was that Conley was the murderer, and that Newt Lee the night watchman helped Conley write the two murder notes. The defense brought numerous witnesses who attested to Frank's alibi, which did not leave him enough time to have committed the crime.

Reporters from the Georgian media closely watched and hand-recorded the courtroom proceedings, then followed up by publishing newspaper articles repeating the testimony delivered during the trial. The media reported that several employees at the pencil factory testified under oath, describing that they had seen Leo Frank on numerous occasions flirting inappropriately with and intimidating some of the young girls who worked at the factory.

Prosecutor Hugh Dorsey.

Conley reiterated his testimony from his affidavit. He added to it by describing Frank as regularly having sex with women in his upstairs second floor office on Saturdays while Conley kept a lookout on the first floor. Although Conley admitted that he had changed his story and lied repeatedly to initially cover for Frank, this did not damage the prosecution's case as much as might have been expected. Conley admitted to being an accessory, so it wasn't surprising that he had lied at first. Many white observers did not believe that a black man could have been intelligent enough to make up such an elaborate and complicated story. The Georgian wrote, "Many people are arguing to themselves that the negro (Jim Conley), 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."

Defense witnesses testified that on that particular day, a Confederate holiday and a Saturday, there were too many people in the factory for Frank to have had trysts there. They also pointed out that the windows of Frank's second floor office lacked curtains. A large number of female factory workers testified for the defense of Frank's good character when it came to women.

Frank spoke on his own behalf by making an unsworn statement as allowed by Georgia Code, Section 1036; it did not permit any cross-examination without the consent of Leo Frank and thus no cross-examination occurred. Most of Frank's four-hour speech was a loquacious, articulate and detailed analysis of the accounting work he had done the day of Phagan's murder, meant to show that the accounting done that particular day was all too time-consuming for him to have committed the murder. He ended with a description of how he viewed the crime, including an effective, and by some accounts moving, 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.

In 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."[27] Leo Frank himself had issued a widely publicized statement questioning how the "perjured vaporizings of a black brute" could be accepted in testimony against him.[27]

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 national 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. In case of an acquittal, the judge feared for the safety of Frank and his lawyers, so he brokered a deal with the defense in which they would not be present when the verdict was read. On August 25, 1913, less than a month after this grueling trial, a unanimous decision was delivered: Frank was convicted of murder.[28]

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."[29]


Tom Watson

Frank's appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court failed in November. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Lamar denied a writ of habeas corpus sought by Frank's lawyers. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes also denied habeas corpus, although he wrote a short opinion stating that "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."

Subsequently, Lamar granted a writ of error allowing Frank to appeal to the full U.S. Supreme Court, which heard Frank's appeal in April 1915. On April 19, in the case of Frank v. Mangum, Frank's appeal was denied on a 7-2 vote. Holmes and Justice Charles Evans Hughes dissented, with Holmes writing that "Mob law does not become due process of law by securing the assent of a terrorized jury."


Indignation in the press about the commutation of Frank's sentence.

Frank applied for clemency from the departing Governor of Georgia, John M. Slaton. Slaton reviewed more than 10,000 pages of documents and examined new evidence that tended to incriminate Conley, including studies comparing Conley's speech patterns to the language of the murder notes.[30]

Convinced that Frank was innocent, on June 20, 1915, Slaton commuted Frank's sentence to life in prison, "assuming that Frank's innocence would eventually be fully established and he would be set free."[30] "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 ... It means that I must live in obscurity the rest of my days, but I would rather be plowing in a field than to feel that I had that blood on my hands."[31]

However, in his written decision, Slaton said of the U.S. Supreme Court opinion that there was "no error of law" in Frank's trial and that "there was sufficient evidence to sustain the [guilty] verdict."[32] On this latter point, he said the Court had ruled "correctly in my judgement."[32] Furthermore, Slaton explicitly stated he was "sustaining the jury, the judge, and the appellate tribunals."[32] 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."[32] On the matter of bias against Frank as a Jew, Slaton wrote, "The charge against the State of Georgia of racial prejudice is unfair."[32]

The commutation was issued six days before the new governor was to take office. According to Steve Oney, "I think Slaton made a decision of conscience... That said, there was a clear and troubling appearance of a conflict of interest." (Slaton was a law partner of Rosser, Frank's lead defense counsel.)[33][34] Watson railed against the decision and urged the lynchings of both Frank and Slaton. A mob threatened to attack the governor at home. A detachment of the Georgia National Guard under the command of Major Asa Warren Candler, along with county policemen and a group of Slaton's friends who were sworn in as deputies, dispersed the mob.[35] Around the same time, a fellow inmate attempted to kill Frank, slashing his throat.


The lynching of Leo Frank.

A group calling itself the "Knights of Mary Phagan" began openly[36] organizing a plan to kidnap Frank from the state prison farm and take him to Marietta, 240 miles (386 km) away, to lynch him. They recruited between 25 and 28 men with the necessary skills. The ringleaders were:[10]

  • Joseph Mackey Brown, (d. 1932) the former governor who had threatened lynching during the clemency hearings
  • Judge Newton (Newt) Morris
  • Eugene Herbert Clay, (d. 1923) son of Senator Alexander S. Clay and former mayor of Marietta
  • John Tucker Dorsey, a lawyer and state legislator
  • Fred Morris, a lawyer
  • Bolan Glover Brumby, owner of a furniture factory

Among the participants in Frank's lynching, the Washington Post reported, "Herbert Clay, son of a U.S. senator,... was perhaps the most prominent person on the list. He was identified as one of the lynching's 'planners,' as were Moultrie McKinney Sessions, a lawyer and banker, and John Tucker Dorsey, a Georgia legislator and prosecutor. Others named as among the lynchers were Gordon Baxter Gann, later mayor of Marietta and a state legislator; ... In all, 26 names were on the list, some of whom may never be adequately identified."[37]

Newspaper article after the lynching.

In addition to these leaders, the group included a doctor, another lawyer, and the former sheriff of Cobb County. John Tucker Dorsey was also the solicitor general for the Blue Ridge Circuit and would theoretically have been in charge of prosecuting the lynchers, none of whom were indicted.

Criticism of the lynching.

On August 17, the Knights of Mary Phagan kidnapped Frank from the prison farm. The kidnapping was highly organized. They forced their way into the prison with a display of their weapons, and took Frank. The lynching site at Frey's Gin, two miles (3 km) east of Marietta, had already been prepared, complete with a rope and table supplied by conspirator Sheriff William Frey. Frank's only requests were that they allow him to write a note to his wife, that they return his wedding ring to her, and that they cover his lower body before hanging him, since he was wearing nothing but a nightshirt. Frank's last words were, "I think more of my wife and my mother than I do of my own life."

Throughout the South, postcards featuring pictures of the Knights of Mary Phagan posing with pride in front of Frank's dead body were made and sent to friends and relatives. Pieces of cloth from the clothing Frank was wearing when he was murdered were torn off his body as souvenirs and bought and sold as memorabilia.[38]

Frank's body was eventually transferred to an undertaker and buried in the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Glendale, Queens County, New York.


After Frank's lynching, approximately half of Georgia's 3,000 Jews left the state.[39] Many American Jews saw Frank as an American Alfred Dreyfus. The intensity of the national and international attention focused on the case was comparable to that in the Lindbergh kidnapping. Frank's arrest and trial led to the founding of the Anti-Defamation League in 1913.[40]

Southerners who believed Frank was guilty saw similarities between the Frank trial and The Birth of a Nation.[41] There was class and sectional resentment against educated northern industrialists, for whom many southerners worked in factories. The Georgia politician and publisher Tom Watson used the case as a stepping stone to build personal political power and support for a rebirth and revival of a declining Ku Klux Klan.[42] and members of the lynching mob decided to create a new Ku Klux Klan. The new Klan was inaugurated in 1915 at the top of Stone Mountain, led by William J. Simmons and attended by a few aging survivors of the original Klan, along with members of the Knights of Mary Phagan.

In keeping with fears of rapid social change in America, including the waves of new Catholic and Jewish immigrants from southern and eastern Europe who poured into the late 19th and early 20th century United States, the new Klan had an antisemitic, anti-Catholic, and nativist slant. The Klan was able to tap into fears aroused by staggering rates of population growth and industrialization in major cities of the Midwest such as Detroit, Chicago, and Indianapolis, where the Klan grew rapidly. The Klan also grew in Southern industrializing cities that grew rapidly from 1910-1930, such as Dallas and Houston. In all these cities, neighborhoods changed quickly, people moved from farms into cities for the first time, competition for jobs and housing was fierce, the housing market could not keep up with demand, and competition led to violence among groups struggling for place. After World War I, the Klan continued to grow as a result of postwar social strains, and the effort to assimilate thousands of veterans in the job market.

Founding of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith

Leo Frank was B'nai B'rith president for Atlanta, Georgia. The anti-semitism surrounding his case, trial and lynching was the catalyst forming the impetus and inspiration for creating the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith in 1913, an organization dedicated to stopping the defamation of Jewish people, bigotry, racism and discrimination.

Alonzo Mann's 1982 affidavit

In 1982, nearly 70 years after the murder of Mary Phagan, Alonzo Mann, who had been Leo Frank's office boy, volunteered that he had seen Jim Conley alone at the factory, dragging Mary Phagan's body, which contradicted Conley's testimony that Leo Frank had paid him to move the dead body of Mary Phagan.[43] Mann swore in an affidavit that Conley had threatened to kill him if he reported what he had seen. Mann said that when he told his family that he had seen Conley dragging the body of Mary Phagan, his parents made him swear and promise not to tell anyone. Mann never told police and investigators what he saw that day at the pencil factory out of fear for his life and to keep his promise to his family. He almost went to the grave with this secret. Alonzo Mann died in 1985 at the age of 85.[44]

Posthumous pardon

After a 1983 denial of a pardon,[45] with Mann's testimony the Anti-Defamation League convinced the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant Frank a posthumous pardon. On March 11, 1986, a pardon was issued by the board:

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.[46]

Dramatizations, musicals, and plays

The Leo Frank story has been explored in various art forms.

Murder in Harlem (1935), by director Oscar Micheaux, was one of three films Micheaux made based on events in the Leo Frank trial. He portrayed the character analogous to Frank as guilty and set the film in New York, removing sectional conflict as one of the cultural forces in the trial. In this version the Frank character was instead a [Boston Brahmin]]. Micheaux's first version was a silent film, The Gunsaulus Mystery (1921). Lem Hawkins' Confession (1935) was also related to the Leo Frank trial.[47]

The film They Won't Forget (1937) was inspired by the Frank case, with the Leo Frank character portrayed as a Christian.

After the publication of Alonzo Mann's 1982 testimony, the case was revisited in the 1988 made-for-TV movie The Murder of Mary Phagan, starring Jack Lemmon, Peter Gallagher, and Kevin Spacey.

David Mamet explored the case in his novel The Old Religion (1997), using it to look at Jewish-American experience and history.

Playwright Alfred Uhry and composer Jason Robert Brown dramatized the Frank story in the musical Parade, produced on Broadway in 1998. It won the 1999 Tony Award for Best Score and Best Book of a Musical. Uhry's great-uncle owned the pencil factory run by Leo Frank.[48]

In 2009 the story was told in The People v. Leo Frank, a film by Ben Loeterman, which premiered on PBS.


Leaders in the Jewish community worked to have the site of Frank's lynching officially recognized. On March 7, 2008, a historical marker was placed in front of the building at 1200 Roswell Road in Marietta, near the location at which Frank was lynched. "Rabbis, news crews, local politicians and onlookers attended the unveiling of the marker Friday afternoon. Keynote speakers included Bill Nigut, Southeast Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League; Cobb [County] Chairman Sam Olens; former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes; state Senator Steve Thompson; Rabbi Steven Lebow; Georgia Historical Society President Todd Groce; and attorney Dale Schwartz."[49]

The marker's text 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.

Erected by the Georgia Historical Society, the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, and Temple Kol Emeth[50]



  • Brundage, William Fitzhugh (1997). Under Sentence of Death: Lynching in the South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Google Books
  • Dinnerstein, Leonard (1987). The Leo Frank Case. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press. Google Books
  • Golden, Harry (1966). The Lynching of Leo Frank. London: Cassell & Co.
  • Horn, Stanley F. (1939). Invisible Empire: The Story of the Ku Klux Klan, 1866-1871. Montclair, NJ: Patterson Smith Publishing Corporation.
  • Lawson, John Davison (ed.) (1918). American State Trials. Volume X. St. Louis: F.H. Thomas Law Book Co. Google Books
  • Lindemann, Albert S. (1991). The Jew Accused: Three Anti-Semitic Affairs (Dreyfus, Beilis, Frank), 1894-1915. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Google Books
  • Linder, Douglas O. "Famous Trials: The Leo Frank Trial, 1913." University of Missouri - Kansas City School of Law
  • MacLean, Nancy (1994). Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan.. Athens, GA: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195098366.  Google Books
  • Oney, Steve (2003). And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank. New York: Random House.
  • Phagan, Mary (1987). The Murder of Little Mary Phagan. Far Hills, NJ: Horizon Press.
  • Wade, Wyn Craig (1987). The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America. New York: Simon and Schuster. Google Books


  1. ^ "The Lynching of Leo Frank." The American Jewish Historical Society, Chapters in American Jewish History, Chapter 94.
  2. ^ "Leo Frank biography." The Jewish Virtual Library.
  3. ^ Lancellotti, Neala, (2005). Hate Crimes in America
  4. ^ Commentators include
    • Carpenter, James A., Rousmaniere, John, Klenicki, Leon. A Bridge to Dialogue: Story of Jewish-Christian Relations, p. 98. The authors call the evidence 'trumped up.'
    • Coleman, Kenneth (ed) A History of Georgia, p. 292.
    • Dinnerstein, Leonard. The Leo Frank Case, p. 162. Dinnerstein quotes John Roche, who he writes chronicled the development of civil rights in the 20th century: "As one who has read the trial record half a century later, I might add... that Leo Frank was the victim of circumstantial evidence which would not hold up ten minutes in a normal courtroom then or now." Dinnerstein writes that Harry Golden echoed Roche's opinion that no one would be convicted today on the same evidence.
    • Eakin, Frank. What Price Prejudice?: Antisemitism in the Light of the American Christian Experience, p. 97. Frank describes the case as a "travesty of justice".
  5. ^ Dinnerstein, Preface to the First Edition, p. xiii.
  6. ^ "Considered one of the most sensational trials of the early 20th century, the Frank case seemed to press every hot-button issue of the time: North vs. South, black vs. white, Jew vs. Christian, industrial vs. agrarian." Ravitz, Jessica (November 2, 2009). "Murder case, Leo Frank lynching live on." CNN
  7. ^ Wade p. 144; Horn p.
  8. ^ Dinnerstein p. 84.
  9. ^ MacLean p. 336.
  10. ^ a b Oney's source for Brown's involvement is a June 12, 1990 interview with Marietta newspaperman Bill Kinney; the documented interview is held by Emory University.
  11. ^ Wade p. 144.
  12. ^ Sawyer, Kathy. "A Lynching, a List and Reopened Wounds." The Washington Post. June 20, 2000.
  13. ^ The Leo Frank Case. GeorgiaInfo, Digital Library of Georgia
  14. ^ American Jewish Archives - Leo Frank
  15. ^ The Selig Company Building - Pioneer Neon Company. Marietta Street ARTery Association
  16. ^ Mary's family background: Phagan pp. 14-16, Oney pp. 4-7.
  17. ^ Mary was working part time in a mill with her brothers and sisters at age ten, a common occurrence in 1909. Oney p. 5. Though reform groups of the Progressive Era were making inroads against business interests in the battle over child labor, "at the time of Mary Phagan's death, Georgia alone among the states allowed factory owners to hire ten-year-old children and work them for eleven-hour days." Brundage p. 165. "[Mary] Phagan ... personified the bitter dilemma of the [South's] emerging industrial proletariat, forced to rely on children's wages to make ends meet." Brundage p. 163.
  18. ^ Oney p. 6.
  19. ^ Lawson p. 182.
  20. ^ New York Times, February 26, 1914
  21. ^ INDICTED FOR GIRL'S MURDER; Leo A. Frank Accused In Case That Has Taken Political Turn; New York Times (1857-Current file). New York, N.Y.: May 25, 1913. p. 4 (1 page)
  22. ^ Oney p.
  23. ^ Lawson pp. vi-xii, 182-414.
  24. ^ a b Lindemann, Albert S. (1991). The Jew Accused: Three Anti-Semitic Affairs (Dreyfus, Beilis, Frank), 1894-1915. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 251. ISBN 0521447615.,+The+Jew+Accused:&client=firefox-a#PPA251,M1. 
  25. ^ 'The Trial of Leo Frank: An Account'. A description and analysis of this trial was given in The Trial of Leo Frank: An Account.
  26. ^ Knight, Alfred H. (1996).The Life of the Law. p. 189
  27. ^ a b Levy, Eugene (2000), "Is the Jew a White Man?", in Adams, Maurianne; Bracey, John H., Strangers & Neighbors: Relations Between Blacks & Jews in the United States, Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, pp. 261–270, ISBN 1-55849-236-4 
  28. ^ Linder, Douglas O. "The Leo Frank Trial: A Chronology." University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law
  29. ^ The New York Times, December 14, 1914
  30. ^ a b New Georgia Encyclopedia: Leo Frank Case
  31. ^ "A Political Suicide". Time Magazine. January 24, 1955.,9171,861129,00.html. 
  32. ^ a b c d e The Leo Frank Trial: Clemency Decision of Governor John M. Slaton (June 21, 1915)
  33. ^ Dinnerstein, Leonard. "Leo Frank Case." Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1987: 123-24. Accessed via Google Book Search, August 12, 2008. "Slaton could have avoided the case by claiming 'personal involvement.' He had this option because he was the law partner of Leo Frank's attorney, Luther Rosser."
  34. ^ The Associated Press. "Rabbi seeks NFL censure for remarks about 1915 lynching." Macon Telegraph. September 9, 2000. "Steve Oney, a writer who has spent 13 years researching and writing a book on the case, said there is no evidence the governor was bribed into the action that ruined his political career. 'I think Slaton made a decision of conscience,' he said. 'That said, there was a clear and troubling appearance of a conflict of interest.'"
  35. ^ The New Georgia Encyclopedia: John M. Slaton (1866-1955)
  36. ^ Phagan, 1987, p. 27, states that "everyone knew the identity of the lynchers" (putting the words in her father's mouth). Oney, 2003, p. 526, quotes Carl Abernathy as saying, "They'd go to a man's office and talk to him or ... see a man on the job and talk to him," and an unidentified lyncher as saying "The organization of the body was more open than mysterious."
  37. ^ Kathy Sawyer, A Lynching, a List and Reopened Wounds. Washington Post, June 20, 2000.
  38. ^ "The Best of Times, The Worst of Times." The Jewish Americans. Dir. David Grubin. 2008. DVD. PBS, 2008.
  39. ^ The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition. Temple University Press. 1988. pp. 45. ISBN 087722532X. 
  40. ^ 1913-1920 ADL - In Retrospect The Anti-Defamation League
  41. ^ D. W. Griffith's the Birth of a Nation by Melvyn Stokes p 358 2007
  42. ^ Wade p. 144.
  43. ^ "Wrongly Accused, Falsely Convicted and Wantonly Murdered". 2004-05-04. 
  44. ^ Alonzo Mann spoke in a 1983 TV news report on the posthumous pardon denial. [1] YouTube
  45. ^ "American Notes". Time Magazine. March 24, 1986.,9171,1075053-2,00.html. 
  46. ^ Dinnerstein, Leonard (2009-03-31). "Leo Frank Case". Leo Frank Case. New Georgia Encyclopedia; University of Georgia. 
  47. ^ Bernstein, Matthew. "Oscar Micheaux and Leo Frank: Cinematic Justice Across the Color Line." Film Quarterly vol. 57, no. 4 (2004): 8.
  48. ^ Pogrebin, Robin. "Songwriting Challenge of Historic Proportions." The New York Times, December 22, 1998.
  49. ^ Cobb Neighbor Newspaper, March 13, 2008.
  50. ^ Historical Marker Dedication: Leo Frank Lynching The Georgia Historical Society

Further reading

  • Bernstein, Matthew (2009). Screening a Lynching: The Leo Frank Case on Film and Television. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press. Google Books
  • Hertzberg, Steven (1978). Strangers Within the Gate City: The Jews of Atlanta, 1845-1915. Philadelphia: the Jewish Publication Society of America.
  • Melnick, Jeffrey Paul (2000). Black-Jewish Relations on Trial: Leo Frank and Jim Conley in the New South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Google Books

External links

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