The Case of Leo Frank and How …
The Case of Leo Frank and How It Impacted AmericaLeo Frank was a Jewish superintendent of a National Pencil Factory in Atlanta Georgia who was convicted in 1913 of the murder of a gentile girl, a 13-year-old employee, Mary Phagan. It is argued that Frank was falsly convicted in this case, maybe because of his race. Many factors led to Leo Frank’s conviction and later his death. The case drew attention to the governor of Georgia and the U.S.
Supreme Court and was felt all over the nation. The state of Georgia was inflamed over the case and it allured the whole country. The Trial of Leo Frank showed that rising tensions in the early 1900s America included progression of racism, especially anti-Semitism, as well as child labor laws.Suspicions and many different stories arose of who the actual murderer could be, fingers were pointed at different suspects for different reasons including racism, religion, and class. The first suspect was the watchman for the National Pencil Factory, Newt Lee. Lee found Phagan in the basement when he was going down to use the Negro toilet. Lee was investigated for three days and put in the city jail.
Lee could be an obvious suspect because he was at the bottom of the social class, worked as just the watchman, and represented a race that was usually blamed for crimes and punished crimes and incidents that they did not commit. For many years prior to the 1900s, blacks would be convicted for crimes that they did not commit just because they were not liked but the white race. On the day of the trial Lee testifies that on the evening of the murder he received a call from Frank, something that apparently had never happened before, asking if things were okay at the factory.Jim Conley, a twenty-seven year old black sweeper at the factory was also trialed for the murder of Mary Phagan. Conley had an abundant amount of evidence that pointed to him. There were two murder notes found at the scene of the crime and Conley confessed to writing them, although he claimed he wrote them for Frank who had called him into his office the day before the murder. Conley then changed his story to say that Frank had asked him to guard the door while he engaged he sexual activity with Phagan, but things went wrong when Phagan hit her head against a machine and Frank wanted Conley’s help disposing of the body.
One of the murder notes read “a long tall negro blck that hoo is wase.” He had even been seen by foreman at the plant washing a bloody shirt. The Solicitor Hugh Dorsey and Conley’s own lawyer, William Smith worked with Conley during late night sessions to try and get him to be the most effective prosecution witness. Over the timeline of the trial the defense drove Conley with questions and got him to admit that he had lied several times to the detectives and did not have a very good memory. Luther Rosser, Frank’s lawyer, said that the “the jurors shouldn’t allow themselves to be fooled by a trained parrot” discussing how a black man could not testify for himself and fool a jury like Conley had but he had been trained by his lawyer on how to act in front of the jury. Conley admitted to striking Phagan with his fist and knocking her down to the basement and planning to blame it on the watchman, Newt Lee because he knew he would be easy to frame being a lower class black man of this time. Through all the evidence pointing towards Conley in committing the crime because anti-Semitism was growing so much in Atlanta and in the South, the jury was easily persuaded by Conley’s story.
The third and final suspect for the trial was Leo Frank, superintendent of the factory, and the man who was ultimately charged with the murder of Mary Phagan. When Frank came to the stand he had a story completely different from Conley and finished his argument by saying Conley’s testimony was “a tissue of lies from first to last”. Frank stated that he was so busy when Phagan came to collect her pay and at the time did not even know her name but only recognized her from seeing her around the factory. Many women who formerly employees at the factory were questioned on Frank’s reputation towards women, where many of them replied that it was bad and that he was seen talking to Mary Phagan two or three times a day. After Frank had already been charged as guilty came retractions from people who had given testimonies against Frank, including the women who stated Frank had a bad reputation regarding women in the factory. The witnesses who gave false statements said that they had been encouraged by detectives and investigators to give false statements or to not tell the truth. Evidence proving Frank innocent was constantly overlooked because people did not want to believe or accept the fact that a Jew was innocent.
Defense Attorney Reuben Arnold stated that Frank was a victim of anti-Semitism and that if not been a Jew he would have never been prosecuted. Atlanta used Frank being a Jew as justification for his presumed guilt. Hate came easy for the people of Georgia against Frank with him being a Yankee Jew, and Mary Phagan being a southern girl from Georgia. This represented Atlanta and Georgia as whole because it was the southerners from Georgia who were hostile towards Northerners and Jews. Frank was an outsider a midst white Protestants. The people of Atlanta pointed at Frank so the jury and judges did too. After all the previous crime in Atlanta throughout the years the people of Georgia were enraged with what had happened in their hometown and wanted justice.
Frank was the perfect target for their justice being a foreign Yankee-Jew representing industrialization and immigration, all things that southerners were against. When found guilty people lined the streets of Atlanta cheering. An unbiased statement that appeared in the Chicago Tribune, reads that from the hue and cry that was raised in Atlanta “that someone be punished as a lesson to others and in expiation of the crimes that had been committed.” The lynching of Leo Frank sparked the forming of different organizations. Members of an enraged Jewish community met to create the Anti-Defamation League to try and fight anti-Semitism. Also, members from a group that called themselves the Knights of Mary Phagan gathered on the top of a mountain on the outskirts of Atlanta and formed the newest Ku Klux Klan of Georgia.The Leo Frank case drew attention nationwide as newspaper articles from across the country questioned the innocence of this Jewish man.
The New Orleans Jewish Ledger states “Sad to say, the old, and, as we thought, outworn, religious prejudice against the Jew was employed in full force, and was determined to hang the Jew,” In the San Francisco Emanu-el reads, “No one can deny that under the circumstances the execution of Frank would be a travesty of justice.” And as well as in the Brooklyn Times reads “Frank was adjudged guilty not because he was guilty, but because of unreasoning race prejudice against him.” There is a very prevalent belief throughout the country that Frank did not have a fair trial that he was being through racial prejudice just because the city had the ability to.Child labor laws were in place in the 1900s but widely ignored. Children would word for as little as twenty-two cents a week. The incident happened within the factory where young Mary Phagan worked long hours for small wages. If children of such young ages were not forced to work I sweatshops and factories maybe this crime might never have happened.