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10 Reasons Why The Leo Frank Trial Shook America

Ashley Hathaway, Piero Morote, Josh Lopez

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Who is Leo Frank?

Leo Frank was a Jewish superintendent for the National Pencil Co. wrongly convicted of the murder a 13 year old employee, Mary Phagan, in 1913. A rise of antisemitism and hatred for Frank created a prejudicial trail. A wide range of factors, including antisemitism and the economy, played a role in the conviction of Leo Frank (The Murder). The famous court case and lynching of Leo Frank caught national attention and raised many political, racial, and religious concerns during his trail and after his death. About 70 years later, Leo Frank was pardoned by the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles.



The fears of the impoverished citizens in southern Atlanta, Georgia were brought forth when news broke that a rich entitled white man had killed one of their own. Leo Frank was from a wealthy family and had an Ivy League education, which contrasted the lives of most people in Atlanta (Alpine 21). The people of Atlanta had always thought of Leo Frank as the man who forced their children to work, so naturally they believed he was capable of much more heinous crimes (Burns). For the rest of the country the thought of a grown man, of high societal standing, killing an underprivileged child was fascinatingly horrific.


In an interview with Atlanta Magazine, Steve Oney, the author of And The Dead Shall Rise, explains the prejudice that occurred in the Leo Frank trial because the former agrarian society feared the shift to an industrial society (Burns). Leo was a constant reminder to all those who were forced to work in the factories and whose children were forced to work instead of attend school. This hared caused Leo to become the most prominent suspect, not because there was actual evidence against him but because he was seen as part of the industrialization plight by a majority of Atlanta citizens.

3.No Conviction

All of America was watching the trial unfold thanks to the constant media coverage so when Leo Frank was lynched the whole nation was captivated. The events leading up to his death were so dramatic they could have come straight from a play. From the commutation of Franks death sentence, to his murder attempt in prison, and finally to his eventual kidnapping and lynching (Leo Frank). This created a cult following so when there was no conviction it was like a story without an ending. There had been two deaths and yet as Steve Oney said, "There are no winners in it; everything turns out wrong."(Burns).

4.Anti-Defamation League

The Anti-defamation League was founded to to stop the defamation (or slandering) of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment for all (Remembering). This organization was formed in 1913 but didn't gain ground until Leo Frank was tried and hanged for murder, some even say they didn't have a purpose until the lynching happened(Burns). The trial and its anti-semitic under tones were influential enough to give a backbone to an organization that has worked to confront discrimination and secure freedom for everyone. Even after his death the ADL continues to fight for Leo by urging the sate of Georgia to grant him a posthumous pardon(Remembering).

5.Her Age and Death

The death of Mary Phagan was arguably the heaviest influence for the actions taken for the truth. Her death was already a tragedy, but the way she had been killed (especially at the young age of 13) had “riveted attention” (Little Secrets,The murder of Mary Phagan and the death of Leo Frank) to the nation. The state and the country were appalled by how brutally she was beaten and killed, many were even more horrified by the suspicion that she had been raped. This is one of the great attributes that made her tale shake the country.

6.Anti-Semitism and It's Growth

During this time racism was very common in society, and the thought of Anti-Semitism was already strengthened in the views of many southerners. Yet, after this trial, that thought became divided after Frank lost his life to the lynching. Many were appalled after finding out the outbursts made towards Frank such as “Hang the Pervert Jew” (Slyomovics). These acts affected many of in country Jews. Many even went into a “state of denying their Judaism “(Jacobs) since the trial and lynching hit their communities throughout the country hard.

7.Georgia became Dark

For a while the people of Georgia represented a dark presence for the south due to their actions in the aftermath of the trial. It became apparent that the citizens of Georgia had changed, especially after their act of lynching. Where the people were described as they “were Marietta's leading citizens, and they acted premeditatedly and without passion” (Jacobs). What lead to an even darker path was the creation of racial groups such as the infamous Ku Klux Klan, as they “formed” after being inspired by the lynching of Leo Frank. This lead to life in the south becoming much more dangerous to other minorities. All due to misconception of the truth.

8.Reinvigoration of the KKK

A cross burning attended by some of Frank's murderers was held two weeks after Frank's lynching. The ceremony was considered the official revival of the KKK (Lebovic). Racist Klan sympathizers expanded the parameters of their hate, now including Jews, aiding the growth of the new Klan. The Klan's revival was supported by the anti-semitism portrayed in the media, including southern newspapers inciting Klan activities. People playing big roles in the community, such as US Senator Tom Watson, actively boosted propaganda in favor of the KKK. By adopting modern business practices, the Klan managed to increase their membership and profit. At its peak the Klan was able to claim around four million supporters.

9.Media Coverage

The Leo Frank case became one of the most publicized court cases of the early 20th century. The main source of information people were able to obtain at the time were their local newspapers. While there were sources that were completely against Frank, other sources (especially northern newspapers) questioned Frank's conviction (The Murder). Newspapers covered the case in an irresponsible manner, continuously attempting to one-up rival newspapers with dramatic and shocking stories that were not entirely true. Irresponsible coverage on the case fueled up hatred for Frank, which became one of the factors of his conviction.

10. Intimidation

The lynching of Leo Frank drove half of the jewish community out of Georgia. Southerners resented northern businessmen and feared Jews feared for their safety. Not only did they live in fear, some went as far as to questioning and rejecting their religion. Some managed to hide their religion by decreasing the amount of commitment to their religion and assimilating.

Works Cited

Jacobs, Peter. “The lynching of a Jewish man in Georgia 100 years ago changed

America forever.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 18 Aug. 2015,

a-forever-2015-8. Accessed 27 Apr. 2017.

“Little Secrets The murder of Mary Phagan and the death of Leo Frank.” About North

Georgia, Accessed 27 Apr. 2017.

Slyomovics, Nettanel. “Lynched at midnight: How anti-Semitism doomed Leo Frank,even if the facts didn't.”, 17 Aug. 2015, Accessed 27 Apr. 2017.

Alphin, Elaine. Unspeakable Crime: the Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank. Lerner Publishing Group, 2014.

Burns, Rebecca. “Why the Leo Frank Lynching Resonates a Century Later.”, 5 Aug. 2015, Accessed 27 Apr. 2017.

“Leo Frank Case.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, Accessed 27 Apr. 2017.

“Remembering Leo Frank.” Anti-Defamation League, Accessed 27 Apr. 2017.

Lebovic, Matt. "The ADL and KKK, born of the same murder, 100 years ago." The Times of Israel. 27 May 2013. Web. 27 Apr. 2017."

"The Murder of Mary Phagan: Lynching Leo Frank." The Unredacted, 03 Nov. 2016. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

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