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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 0

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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