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The case of Leo Frank is not dead !

09th November 2009
By richnaveen7 in Criminal Law
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The class struggle behind the story of his 1915 lynching remains tragically relevant.

On 17 August 1915, Leo Frank, a Cornell-educated Jewish industrialist, was lynched in suburban Atlanta. The atrocity marked the culmination of a horrible conflict, which began in 1913 with the murder of a child worker named Mary Phagan, who worked for pennies an hour in Atlanta National Pencil Factory. Frank, the superintendent of the plant, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death, though he always maintained his innocence. He appealed his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, losing every time, bringing the Georgia Governor John Slaton commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. The decision angered the general population, a mob organized by a Superior Court judge, the son of a U.S. senator and a former governor kidnapped Frank from a closely guarded state prison and hanged from an oak tree.

Frank lynching seems an incident of another America, one gray-bearded veteran of the Civil War and Jim Crow, the Model T and ragtime. Woodrow Wilson was president. "The Birth of a Nation" was playing in theaters. The story, however, remains very much alive. During the fall, "Parade," the crowd Alfred Uhry musical based on the issue have been preparing for the Mark Taper Forum. On November 2008, KCET broadcast "The People vs. Leo Frank," the first feature documentary to explore the issue.

There are many reasons why Frank's case continues to receive attention. On the one hand, both the murder of Mary Phagan and the lynching of Leo Frank are so baffling crimes such as Arthur Conan Doyle ever invented. Strange Notes, paradoxes racial (white jury convicted the head of the factory on the testimony of a witness in black ) and a complex conspiracy played a role. But finally, the story is still relevant and interesting, because the conflict at its core red-state/blue-state prefigures today's hostilities.

The raw material for the class struggle was, of course, from the beginning -- a charming Southern girl found dead in a company run by a Jew from the North. It was not until after Frank's conviction that matter exploded. At the urging of the rabbi of the synagogue in Atlanta in the reform , a national campaign to exonerate the convicted was opened by Adolph Ochs, publisher of the New York Times, and A.D. Lasker, the advertising genius behind the Sunkist orange juice and cigarettes Lucky Strike. They believed that Frank had not been so prosecuted as pursued.

To draw attention to what he considered an injustice, Ochs Times launched first -- and so far only -- journalistic crusade. Over a period of 18 months, the paper published dozens of publishers not only require a new trial for Frank, but dozens of articles tipped in their favor. For its part, Lasker orchestrated public relations gimmicks and hired William Burns, the private detective solved the bombing 1910 Los Angeles Times, turn up new evidence. Although Ochs and Lasker were convinced that anti-Semitism had poisoned the view of Frank, they and their followers in New York and other urban areas do not take into account how their efforts are in the South or in the heart of class neighborhoods.

None of those involved in the death of Frank was ever convicted or even charged. (The chief prosecutor of the county where the incident occurred helped it.) Impact of polarizing the issue was felt almost immediately. On the eve of Thanksgiving, 1915, just months after Frank was hanged, the Ku Klux Klan held its first modern-era cross burning atop Stone Mountain, several miles east of Atlanta. (Three members of the lynching party were present.) Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League, which had been founded in 1913, took up the fight against religious intolerance seriously.

Frank's case, however, was more than racism and antisemitism. It was also about the conflicting perceptions of the nation and have-nots, the chasm between the people who appear to handel things and those who feel voiceless. Although it is doubtful that a mob could enter a state prison in 2009 and lynch, a prisoner is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which something bad happened. In an era of escalating foreclosures and rampant unemployment, bank bailouts and endless strong bond traders at Goldman Sachs, the saga of Frank says as much about current events as history does.
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