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August 19, 2016 Off

The Living Memory of a Lynching

How an Injus­tice Com­mit­ted Over 100 Years Ago Inspires Our Com­mit­ment to Jus­tice Today

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium

Leo Frank

This week, we mark a somber anniver­sary of the 101st anniver­sary of the lynch­ing of Leo Frank, a Jew­ish busi­ness­man sent to Geor­gia to man­age his family’s pen­cil fac­tory. This lynch­ing took place at a time of ram­pant anti-Semitism in the South and more broadly in Amer­i­can soci­ety. So it was no sur­prise that when a young Chris­t­ian girl was found mur­dered on the prop­erty, fin­gers were pointed at the out­sider Frank. Despite a lack of evi­dence, and in part due to an envi­ron­ment of incite­ment, Frank was found guilty and sen­tenced to death.

When the gov­er­nor of Geor­gia sub­se­quently com­muted Frank’s sen­tence from cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment to life impris­on­ment, a mob was enraged by this act of mercy for a Jew. At mid­night just over 100 years ago, they tore Frank from his prison cell at the Milledgeville State Pen­i­ten­tiary and hung him on a tree in Mari­etta. Pho­tog­ra­phers cap­tured the grotes­querie for posterity.

The sham trial and bru­tal lynch­ing were an injus­tice and a wound whose pain still sears the Jew­ish com­mu­nity. It was an iso­lated inci­dent for the Jew­ish com­mu­nity, but just one of thou­sands of lynch­ings car­ried out against black Amer­i­cans dur­ing that time, mur­ders that still scar our national psy­che. And it was a moment in time that made clear the need for ADL, which had been founded in 1913.

In this moment, our founders hud­dled in Chicago and laid out a char­ter for a new orga­ni­za­tion they called the Anti-Defamation League. They wrote that it would be ener­gized by a sim­ple mis­sion: “to stop the defama­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple and to secure fair treat­ment and jus­tice to all.”

These activists set out to address a mis­sion which even­tu­ally led ADL to address the sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion and per­va­sive prej­u­dice that kept Jews from achiev­ing full equal­ity in the United States. Decades later, this led to the break down of quo­tas that kept Jews out of higher edu­ca­tion and the tear­ing down of cul­tural bar­ri­ers that pre­vented our com­mu­nity from par­tic­i­pat­ing fully in Amer­i­can life. Their pas­sion prompted our work to unmask hate groups and expose big­ots. It moti­vated our com­mit­ment to use edu­ca­tion to tear out hatred at its roots. It dri­ves our work today to under­stand anti-Semitism around the world and to use inno­va­tion to iden­tify and call out hate in all its forms.

Basi­cally, the ADL could not have saved Leo Frank, but we since have endeav­ored to build a world where this kind of lynch­ing never again would take place.

In 2016, the Amer­i­can Jew­ish com­mu­nity cer­tainly has over­come many of the obsta­cles that once held us back. We now pos­sess a degree of polit­i­cal power and social cap­i­tal that was unimag­in­able in the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury. To a large extent, the open anti-Semitism that was woven into the cul­ture of a prior gen­er­a­tion has been pushed out of the realm of polite con­ver­sa­tion. But it has not gone away.

Anti-Semitism remains a potent force and a per­sis­tent prob­lem in our soci­ety, even if it now assumes dif­fer­ent forms. In an age of fil­ter bub­bles and per­sonal news feeds, self-selecting com­mu­ni­ties traf­fic in anti-Semitism and rein­force each other’s con­spir­a­cies. We also encounter this hatred in rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent ways on social mediaon our col­lege cam­puses or even on the wrestling mat in the Olympics.

Indeed, though open anti-Semitism remains largely taboo in the main­stream, we see haters often hid­ing behind a veneer of ‘polit­i­cal cor­rect’ hos­til­ity, direct­ing their ani­mus toward the Jew­ish state rather than Jews as a reli­gious group. But we rec­og­nize the dou­ble stan­dards, overt demo­niza­tion and the denial of the very right of the Jew­ish state to exist, a phe­nom­e­non also known as dele­git­imiza­tion. Despite all the grave injus­tices in the world, these are tac­tics only directed at Israel. They are reminders that what we are fac­ing in a ris­ing tide of anti-Zionism is lit­tle more than a mod­ern ver­sion of the Old­est Hatred.

That is why ADL remains ded­i­cated to our found­ing pur­pose. We never will relent in the fight against anti-Semitism. And that is why we also speak out against all forms of bigotry.

Some seek to por­tray ADL’s one hun­dred year com­mit­ment to fight hatred in all forms as a dilu­tion of our focus. They say that ADL has lost its way. But we are not dis­tracted by arm­chair crit­ics who mis­char­ac­ter­ize our work from the com­fort of the side­lines. We know that our case is strength­ened when we dare greatly, that we are stronger when we find com­mon cause with oth­ers who also face hate.

The pur­suit of part­ners does not mean that we will shy away fight­ing anti-Semitism when­ever it comes from. ADL will con­tinue to call out any­one who ped­dles in prej­u­dice regard­less of their party or sta­tion, whether it’s those seek­ing pub­lic office who resort to car­toon­ish slan­der or those who traf­fic in a mod­ern ver­sion of the age-old blood libel.

And we will con­tinue to stand by other com­mu­ni­ties who suf­fer from hatred and ter­ror. That is ADL stood with the Sikh com­mu­nity after the mur­der of four wor­ship­pers at a Gur­d­wara in the sum­mer of 2012. That is why in the wake of the mas­sacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last year, ADL launched 50 States Against Hate, to ensure that there are ade­quate hate crimes laws in all 50 states to pro­tect mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties. That is why we sup­ported the LGBT com­mu­nity after the heinous ter­ror attack per­pe­trated in Orlando ear­lier this sum­mer. And that is why ADL will call outanti-Muslim big­otry and the wor­ry­ing increase in vio­lence tar­get­ing Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties and places of worship.

Our tra­di­tion implores us: “Jus­tice, jus­tice shall you pur­sue.” On this anniver­sary, Leo Frank’s mem­ory impels us to ignore the crit­ics and fight fero­ciously against anti-Semitism and big­otry in all its forms. To para­phrase Dr. King, we recom­mit to the strug­gle because the work is not yet done.

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March 18, 2016 9

Seeking Justice: The Pardon of Leo Frank

This week marks the 30th anniver­sary of a sig­nif­i­cant event in ADL his­tory – the deci­sion by the Geor­gia State Board of Par­dons and Paroles to posthu­mously par­don Leo Frank.  Frank was the Jew­ish man­ager of an Atlanta pen­cil fac­tory who was falsely accused and wrongly con­victed in August 1913 of the rape and mur­der of Mary Pha­gan, a 13-year-old girl who worked in the factory. leo-frank-anti-semitism

Anti-Semitism was ram­pant in the early 1900’s and Leo Frank’s trial attracted national atten­tion and sig­nif­i­cant press cov­er­age – includ­ing irre­spon­si­ble press out­lets that inflamed the pub­lic with base and sala­cious anti-Semitism.  The trial itself was infected with a pervasively-hostile and anti-Semitic atmos­phere – from the argu­ments of the pros­e­cut­ing attor­ney to furi­ous mobs shout­ing “Hang the Jew!” out­side the cour­t­house.  Leo Frank’s trial and con­vic­tion shocked and gal­va­nized the Amer­i­can Jew­ish com­mu­nity – and under­lined the impor­tance of the estab­lish­ment of the Anti-Defamation League, which was founded in Chicago in 1913 with a mis­sion to “to stop the defama­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple and to secure jus­tice and fair treat­ment to all.”

Frank appealed his con­vic­tion – all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled 7 to 2, that Frank’s con­sti­tu­tional due process rights had not been vio­lated.  Jus­tices Oliver Wen­dell Holmes and Charles Evans Hughes strongly dis­sented:  “Mob law does not become due process of law by secur­ing the assent of a ter­ror­ized jury. “

After all appeals were exhausted, Geor­gia Gov­er­nor Geor­gia John M. Sla­ton reviewed the case and com­muted Frank’s death sen­tence to life impris­on­ment. That coura­geous deci­sion in June 1915, enraged many and sparked riots in the streets.  Two months later, a mob of armed men kid­napped Frank from his prison cell, drove him over 100 miles to Mari­etta (Mary Phagan’s home­town) and lynched him.

Leo Frank lynching

Efforts to vin­di­cate jus­tice for Leo Frank were strength­ened in 1982, when eighty-three-year-old Alonzo Mann, who ran errands in the fac­tory as a boy, came for­ward to announce that he had seen the fac­tory jan­i­tor car­ry­ing Mary Phagan’s body to the base­ment on the day of her death.  The jan­i­tor had threat­ened to kill him if he told any­one.  ADL’s Atlanta-based South­ern Coun­sel, Charles Wit­ten­stein and promi­nent immi­gra­tion lawyer and national ADL leader Dale Schwartz led a vig­or­ous legal cam­paign to clear Frank’s name.  And on March 11, 1986, those efforts were rewarded with a par­don.  The land­mark deci­sion, how­ever, did not exon­er­ate Frank and prove his inno­cence.  Instead, Geor­gia par­doned Frank because of their fail­ure to pro­tect him and bring his mur­der­ers to justice.

 It’s hard to imag­ine a trial steeped in such anti-Semitism or racism today, but our nation is far from free of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant dis­crim­i­na­tion and hate crimes.  Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. famously said:  “The arc of the moral uni­verse is long, but it bends towards jus­tice.”  The anniver­sary of Leo Frank’s par­don is teach­able moment and a reminder that the arc does not bend by itself – peo­ple striv­ing for equal­ity and jus­tice – even jus­tice, delayed – need to bend it.

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August 23, 2013 Off

100 Years Later, Anti-Semitism Around Leo Frank Case Abounds

leo-frank-anti-semitism

Leo Frank

Anti-Semites are using mis­lead­ing web­sites to exploit the 100th anniver­sary of the Leo Frank case and to pro­mote anti-Jewish views.

On August 25, 1913, Leo Frank was falsely con­victed of mur­der­ing Mary Pha­gan, whose body was found in the fac­tory he man­aged in Atlanta. A mob later lynched Frank after the gov­er­nor of Geor­gia com­muted his death sen­tence to life impris­on­ment. The Frank case was a sem­i­nal moment in Amer­i­can Jew­ish his­tory when the Jew­ish com­mu­nity united to fight against the anti-Semitism that was ram­pant at that time. 

A num­ber of web­sites, osten­si­bly pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion about Leo Frank actu­ally use decep­tive means to tell their ver­sion of the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the Frank case. These sites pro­vide doc­u­ments and tes­ti­mony from that time, but their aim is to cre­ate con­fu­sion and per­versely to accuse Jews of reverse racism. They claim that Jews used the Frank case to under­mine whites, espe­cially in the South.

One site is par­tic­u­larly mis­lead­ing. Call­ing itself “The 1913 Leo Frank Case and Trial Research Library,” the site con­tains numer­ous doc­u­ments from the Frank case. How­ever, the “About” sec­tion of the site reveals the real impe­tus for its cre­ation. The site, which is reg­is­tered anony­mously, asserts that the Frank case was one of the events of 1913 that started “the Birth of the Jew­ish Race War Against European-Americans.”  Accord­ing to the author of the sec­tion, the Frank case led to the cre­ation of a “Jew­ish lobby” and “became a polit­i­cal and social front for sub­vert­ing the major­ity pop­u­la­tion of Gen­tiles by a tiny dis­sent­ing minor­ity of Jews.” The author also accuses Jews of con­trol­ling the government.

Another decep­tive Leo Frank web­site is reg­is­tered to neo-Nazi Kevin Strom. Strom was a leader in the National Alliance and then the National Van­guard, two neo-Nazi orga­ni­za­tions, until he was con­victed on child pornog­ra­phy charges sev­eral years ago. This site cites anti-Semitic works as resources on the Frank case. Strom also pro­motes the arti­cles of “Mark Cohen” on National Van­guard, a neo-Nazi site he runs. Accord­ing to a July 2012 arti­cle on National Van­guard, “Mark Cohen” is “the nom de guerreof a per­son who writes exten­sively about the Leo Frank case.  Arti­cles attrib­uted to Cohen, which assert that Frank is guilty of the Pha­gan mur­der, appear on numer­ous extrem­ist sites.

There are other web­sites on Frank that are also mis­lead­ing. “The Amer­i­can Mer­cury,” an extreme right-wing site with anti-Semitic con­tent, is run­ning a series of arti­cles that pro­mote con­spir­acy the­o­ries about the Frank case. There is also a “Leo Frank” Face­book page that pre­tends to be a per­sonal pro­file page of Frank. This page disin­gen­u­ously lists a num­ber of Jew­ish causes but pro­motes deroga­tory arti­cles on Frank that appear on anti-Semitic websites.

The goal of these fraud­u­lent web­sites is clear. They are using decep­tive means to attack Leo Frank and the Jew­ish community’s efforts to fight back against anti-Semitism.

In the News – The For­ward (8/20/13) “Neo-Nazis Use Leo Frank Case for Anti-Semitic Pro­pa­ganda Push”

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