Frank, Leo, Lynching of

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FRANK, LEO, LYNCHING OF. The prosecution and conviction of Leo Frank in 1913, and his murder by a lynch mob two years later, constitute the South's most notorious episode of anti-Semitism. Born in 1884, Frank was reared in Brooklyn, New York, and served as superintendent of the National Pencil Factory in Atlanta, Georgia. On 26 April 1913, a thirteen-year-old employee, Mary Phagan, was murdered. The superintendent's trial, which began on 28 July, was conducted in an atmosphere inflamed by press sensationalism. The testimony of Jim Conley, a black janitor, seemed conclusive enough to warrant a death sentence. Unsuccessful appeals launched on Frank's behalf may only have deepened the xenophobia among white Georgians. Governor John M. Slaton commuted the sentence to life imprisonment but was forced to flee the state under mob threats. Frank was abducted by two dozen men, calling themselves the Knights of Mary Phagan, who hanged him near her birthplace on 17 August 1915.

A New York Jew and a factory manager in an agrarian order succumbing to modernization, Frank had personisfied a challenge to regional tradition. From the Knights of Mary Phagan, the nucleus of the second Ku Klux Klan in American history was created in 1915, two years after the B'nai B'rith had established the Anti-Defamation League to combat such bigotry.


Dinnerstein, Leonard. The Leo Frank Case. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968.

Stephen J.Whitfield

See alsoAnti-Semitism ; Lynching .