August 17, 1915, One hundred years ago, Leo Frank was kidnapped from prison in Milledgeville, Georgia.
- He had been convicted of 13-year-old factory worker Mary Phagan’s 1913 murder on circumstantial evidence.
- After review of the case by the governor, Leo Frank had his death sentence commuted, only to be seized by a well-organized cabal from Marietta.
After the hanging, for which no one was ever charged, crowds surged onto the Marietta Square to celebrate. Goldstein’s grandfather ran a store on the square, where ominous handbills had warned Jewish merchants to clear out.
Goldstein said Sunday during a service to memorialize Frank at Congregation Etz Chaim in East Cobb, about six miles east of where Frank died. “My grandfather gathered up the family, closed up the store and pushed through the crowd toward the trolley, the mob followed them to the trolley car. Once they reached the trolley car and boarded the mob went violent and shook the trolley car. For my nine-year-old uncle and my seven-year-old aunt, they were flat-out terrified.”
Rabbi Steven Lebow of the Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta called for Gov. Nathan Deal to clear Frank’s name once and for all.
“It’s not possible to make the future good, unless you’re willing to make the past right,” Lebow said to the crowd of about 350 people at the memorial service and call for exoneration at the Temple Kol Emeth.
Lebow said it’s time for government leaders to exonerate Leo Frank, who was found guilty in 1913 of the murder of Mary Phagan. “We came to demand that Leo Frank ’s name finally be cleared; it’s been 100 years,” Lebow said. “Every historian now knows that he was innocent.”
Leo Max Frank (April 17, 1884 – August 17, 1915) was a Jewish-American factory superintendent who was convicted of the murder of one of his factory employees, 13-year-old Mary Phagan. His legal case and lynching in Georgia brought attention to the topic of antisemitism in the United States.
An engineer and director of the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, Frank was convicted on August 25, 1913 for the murder of Phagan. She had been strangled on April 26 of that year and was found dead in the factory cellar the next morning. The basis for Frank’s conviction largely centered around the testimony of another suspect, James “Jim” Conley, an admitted accomplice after the fact, who worked as a sweeper in the factory. Conley changed his testimony several times in various affidavits and admitted to fabricating certain parts of his story. Frank and his lawyers made a series of unsuccessful appeals after his conviction, losing their final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in April 1915. Following this decision and after deliberation, Governor John M. Slaton commuted Frank’s sentence to life imprisonment. A crowd of 1,200 marched on the governor’s mansion in protest. Two months later,Leo Frank was kidnapped from prison by a group of 25 armed men and driven 170 miles (270 km) to Marietta, Georgia, where he was lynched.
His criminal case became the focus of powerful class, regional, and political interests. Although born in Texas, the Northern-educated Frank was seen as a carpetbagging representative of Yankee capitalism who exploited child laborers like Phagan and many working-class adult Southerners of the time, as the agrarian South was undergoing the throes of industrialization. During trial proceedings, Frank and his lawyers resorted to racial stereotypes in their defense, accusing Conley – who was African-American – of being especially disposed to lying and murdering because of his ethnicity. There was jubilation in the streets when Frank was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.
Leo Frank was posthumously pardoned in 1986 by the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles, which said that its action was performed ” without attempting to address the question of guilt or innocence”. The consensus of researchers on the subject is that Frank was wrongly convicted.IMAGE/wikipedia