Last night's PBS documentary, “The People vs. Leo Frank,” has revived the mysteries and public curiosity: The century-old “whodunit,” CNN notes in one of its most popular articles today, touched on "every hot-button issue of the time: North vs. South, black vs. white, Jew vs. Christian, industrial vs. agrarian."
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. The manager of a pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia, Frank was convicted in the rape and murder of a pencil-factory worker, 13-year-old Mary Phagan. The case is widely regarded as having been a miscarriage of justice. 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. The trial was sensationalized by the media. The Georgia politician and publisher Tom Watson used the case to build personal political power and support for a revival of the Ku Klux Klan.
Shortly after Frank's conviction, new evidence emerged that cast doubt on his guilt. 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". The group is reported to have included the son of a senator, a former governor, lawyers, and a prosecutor..........
Nearly 100 years later, the case and trial of Leo Frank is making headlines again. Doubts about the 1913 murder of Atlanta teen Mary Phagan and accused suspect Frank — said to be U.S. history’s only Jewish lynching victim — have long fueled conspiracy theories.
Leo Frank was raised in Brooklyn and later moved with his wife to Atlanta, Georgia, to manage his uncle’s pencil factory after graduating from Cornell University. Mary Phagan was one of Frank's employees, a white child laborer working to help support her family. On April 13, 1913, Phagan went to the factory to receive $1.20 in pay she was owed for the previous week. Frank gave her the check; Phagan was found dead at approximately 3am on April 14 by Newt Lee, the factory's night watchman.
Police initially arrested Lee and a young friend of Phagan's in connection with the crime, but soon focused their attention on Frank after his nervous demeanor and detailed answers to simple questions raised suspicions. Frank was later tried, convicted and sentenced to death based on what many people familiar with the case believe was the perjured testimony of the black man who actually killed Phagan, factory janitor Jim Conley. On the day Frank, 31, was to be executed by the state, then-Georgia Governor John Slaton, who doubted the strength of Frank's conviction after lengthy hearings introduced new evidence and a plea from the original trial's judge, commuted Frank's sentence to life in prison. For Slaton, the move was political suicide.
Predictably, the public reaction to Slaton's action was outrage. An angry mob screaming "kill the Jew" stormed the governor's mansion in protest and had to be fought off by armed militia men, while another mob calling themselves the "Knights of Mary Phagan" stormed the prison and kidnapped Frank. A former governor and the son of a U.S. senator were believed to be among the attackers. Frank was taken to Marietta, Georgia, the town where Mary Phagan was born, and hanged.
Frank's hanging helped inspire the founding of the Anti-Defamation League and provoked more than 3,000 Jews to flee the state. Leo Frank was posthumously pardoned for the murder of Mary Phagan by the state of Georgia in 1986.
“That my vindication will eventually come,” Frank is quoted as saying in the PBS documentary, “I feel certain.”
Tags: leo frank, murder, case, Mary Phagan, racism, jew, black, white, kkk, racist, 1915, ghastlyghost, 2009
Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States (load item map)
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