The Leo Frank Case
The case of Leo Frank was one that had a huge impact on American society, and has lead to many changes in the United States legal system. The rape and murder of Mary Phagan, a thirteen-year-old girl who worked in the National Pencil Factory in Atlanta, Georgia, was an event that terrified and enraged the citizens of the state. Leo Frank, superintendent of the pencil factory, was the man who was convicted of the heinous crime. Many factors led to the conviction, and later, the death of Frank.
He was a Jewish man from New York, in a position of power; something that Georgians did not agree with. Furthermore, the South had strong moral values dealing with the respect and well being of women. To see this violated hurt and upset the residents deeply. Hence, the perpetrator had to be brought to justice. Representing “urbanization, industrialization, and foreigners”, all of the things that the residents of Georgia had come to despise, Frank was the perfect target. (Dinnerstein 150) The trial of Frank was obviously unjust.
Constantly, evidence showing doubt as to whether or not Frank was truly the murderer was overlooked. Jim Conley, the black janitor who worked in the pencil factory, seemed to be a more likely candidate. However, the residents of Georgia continued to point to Frank as the person responsible for the crime, therefore influencing the judges and jury of the case to do the same. Frank, born in Texas and raised in New York, was viewed as an outsider by the populace of Georgia. Furthermore, he was Jewish, amidst many white Protestants.
He was the superintendent of the National Pencil Factory, an urbanized industry within an agricultural state. His religion, power and type of work all aided in his unpopularity with the Georgian masses. Though much of the evidence in the case pointed to Conely, this was Georgia’s chance to finally get back at those whom they felt were destroying, or would destroy, their way of life. Frank was the epitome of all of Georgia’s disdain. Furthermore, it would have been nothing for Georgian’s to convict
Conely, a man who was at the bottom of the social class and who represented a class who was commonly blamed and punished for major and minor crimes in the first place. Leo Frank was the man that they wanted to suffer, regardless of his guilt or innocence. Another reason that Georgian’s may have wanted to punish Frank for the crime might have been because he was not even from Georgia. He was raised in New York, and moved to Georgia later in his life to supervise the factory.
To Georgians, this represented the unsolicited topic of immigration. In Atlanta the Jews never constituted a significant percentage of the city’s population, but with the influx of [European immigrants] in the 1890’s problems developed…between them and the working class Atlantans” (Dinnerstein 70). Immigrants at the time were arriving in vast amounts, searching for economic opportunities throughout the United States. Though most went to the North due to its developing industrial and urban markets, many began to flock South when urban development began to spread there as well.
The residents of Georgia did not take well to this at all. Frank simply seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. After being convicted for the murder, Leo Frank went through many appeals to get his death sentence repealed. Eventually, a judge finally granted Frank commutation, and reduced Frank’s sentence to life imprisonment. Frank was then kidnapped from jail and lynched by “the highest” of Georgia’s residents, who felt that the lynching was “a duty to the State and a duty to the memory of Mary Phagan…” (Dinnerstein 141).
Overall, Leo Frank was lynched because he represented all that Georgia hated at that time. He was Jewish and held a powerful position in an industrial business within a community surrounded by supporters of agriculture. He was considered an outsider by the residents of Georgia, and when the opportunity came for them to get revenge, they took it. Frank was simply the punching bag for the fists of Georgia.