The Lynching of Leo Frank
Leo Max Frank was a Jewish-American factory superintendent whose murder trial and extrajudicial hanging in 1915 by a lynch mob planned and led by prominent citizens in Marietta, Georgia, drew attention to questions of anti-Semitism in the United States. An engineer and superintendent of the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, Frank was convicted on August 25, 1913, for murdering one of his factory workers, 13-year-old Mary Phagan. She had been strangled on April 26th, and was found dead in the factory cellar the next morning. A state physician conducting the autopsy indicated evidence of sexual violence. Frank was the last person known to have seen her alive, and there were allegations that he had sexually harassed 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 in contrast to the poverty experienced by Phagan and many working-class Southerners of the time. There was jubilation in the streets when Frank was convicted and sentenced to death. During the height of the summer Frank narrowly survived a prison attack after his throat was slashed. One month later, he was kidnapped from the penitentiary by a group of 25 armed men whocalled themselves “Knights of Mary Phagan.” Frank was driven 170 miles from Milledgville to Frey’s Gin 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 as souvenirs. 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. 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. 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.