Where Leo Frank Was Lynched 105 Years Ago: Justice — or Anti-Semitism?

Motorists have been using the new Roswell Road exit of Interstate 75 in Marietta ever since the Northwest Corridor Express toll lanes opened to traffic on Saturday, September 8, 2018 — not realizing that they are passing the spot where many people believe that a historic grave injustice had occurred as they enter and leave the busy highway in Georgia.

Where Leo Frank Was Lynched 105 Years Ago: Justice — or Anti-Semitism?

The strangled body of Mary Phagan — who was only 13 years old — was found near an incinerator in the rear of the basement of the National Pencil Company by the night watchman on Saturday, April 26, 1913.

Leo Max Frank was a Jewish man who is thought to be wrongfully convicted of the murder of a female employee of the pencil factory, of which Frank was a superintendent. Did he attempt to sexually assault Mary Phagan — or did someone else kill her and frame Frank?

Leo Frank

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

The state historical marker of the lynching of Leo Frank which was originally located on the south side of Roswell Road before the new toll lanes were constructed. Near the marker was a mature tree, a K-Mart department store, a Long John Silver’s seafood restaurant, and a Wendy’s fast food hamburger restaurant. A new sign designating the entrance to the toll road remains covered.

Leo Frank

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Prior to its realignment due to the entrance and exit ramps for the new toll lanes, the bent sign for Frey’s Gin Court lays on top of the sign for Roswell Road.

Leo Frank

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

The temporary orange detour sign is positioned near the spot where the state historical marker was originally erected and located.

Leo Frank

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Traffic moves along on Interstate 75 above the overpass which crosses over Roswell Road as workers continue construction of the entrance and exit ramp for the Northwest Corridor Express new toll lanes.

Leo Frank

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

A layer of dirt coats the pavement for the old Frey’s Gin Court, which was eventually torn up for construction of the entrance and exit ramp for the new toll lanes of Interstate 75. Even a sign demarcating the entrance to a Wendy’s fast food hamburger restaurant did not escape damage.

Leo Frank

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

The State Historical Marker for the Lynching of Leo Frank Today

Leo Frank

Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

Quoted on the state historical marker for the lynching of Leo Frank is the following:

Near this location on August 17, 1915, Leo M. Frank, the Jewish superintendent of the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, was lynched for the murder of thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan, a factory employee. A highly controversial trial fueled by societal tensions and anti-Semitism resulted in a guilty verdict in 1913. After Governor John M. Slaton commuted his sentence from death to life in prison, Frank was kidnapped from the state prison in Milledgeville and taken to Phagan’s hometown of Marietta where he was hanged before a local crowd. Without addressing guilt or innocence, and in recognition of the state’s failure to either protect Frank or bring his killers to justice, he was granted a posthumous pardon in 1986.

Leo Frank

Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

A marker located just west of the state historical marker has the following engraved on it:

In respectful memory of the thousands across America, denied justice by lynching; victims of hatred, prejudice, and ignorance.

Between 1880-1946,
~570 Georgians were lynched.

ADL
Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation
Rabbi Steven Lebow, Temple Kol Emeth

Leo Frank

Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

Excerpted from this article written by Steve Oney for Atlanta magazine is the following statement:

If the judgment of time is the deciding factor, the unit will indeed find Frank innocent. In the years since the April 26, 1913 murder, a consensus has emerged about what happened in Frank’s downtown Atlanta factory that day: The killer was Jim Conley, a black janitor who was the state’s star witness against Frank. While researching And the Dead Shall Rise, my 2003 book on the case, I reached the same conclusion. This is not, of course, how Georgians first saw it. An all-white jury accepted Conley’s word over that of Frank, his Jewish boss, and the judge sentenced Frank to die by hanging.

The spectacle of a Jim Crow–era court relying on a black man’s testimony to convict a white man of murder was remarkable, but the nation remembers the case because of what happened next. Following extensive coverage in the press and appeals that ran all the way to the United States Supreme Court, Governor John Slaton commuted Frank’s death sentence in June 1915. Shortly thereafter, a group of men from Marietta, Phagan’s hometown, abducted Frank from the Georgia prison farm in Milledgeville, drove him to Marietta, and lynched him. Several months later, the Ku Klux Klan, which had disbanded following Reconstruction, reestablished itself at a cross-burning atop Stone Mountain.

The Frank case opened a deep vein of anti-Semitism in America, unleashing furies that remain part of the national psyche. (The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 to combat those furies.) As a result, any discussion of the subject is difficult. Emotions about it run strong, and, while a majority now believes the factory superintendent was guiltless, others resent what they regard as a knee-jerk acceptance of that fact. Howard’s investigators will need to keep this in mind if they are to vindicate Frank. The affair pitted Jew against Gentile, white against black, rural against urban. Regardless of the outcome, not everyone will be happy.

Leo Frank

Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

However, Mary Phagan-Kean claims at her official Internet web site that her great-aunt was indeed killed by Leo Frank:

The Phagan family has no objection to anyone expressing their opinions about the Frank case, but we do insist that organizations and personal campaigns not distort the truth and facts to use this case for their own political purposes. For over 100 years, each passing decade brought with it “new historical evidence” falsely claiming to exonerate Leo Frank. The Phagan family has stated since 1982 that if there were clear-cut evidence to clear Frank of this heinous crime, we would come forward and ask for exoneration. However, such historical evidence has never come to light. Rather, there are considerable data, extensive documentation, revealing archival material, and legal, court, and government records that only support and even strengthen the guilty verdict.

Leo Frank

Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

A sign adjacent to the overpass marks the Roswell Road entrance and exit of the Northwest Corridor Express toll lanes of Interstate 75.

Leo Frank

Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

The former location of the state historical marker for the lynching of Leo Frank is on the extreme right of the photograph shown above, which is now a ramp for access and egress of motor vehicles from the Northwest Corridor Express toll lanes of Interstate 75.

Leo Frank

Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

The state historical marker for the lynching of Leo Frank was eventually moved to a spot on the north side of Roswell Road, as it was erected near the intersection of Halsey Drive and Chert Road in Marietta on the west side of Interstate 75.

No one was ever prosecuted for the kidnapping or lynching of Leo Frank.

Leo Frank

Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

Direct access to Roswell Road is no longer possible from Chert Road due to the new spot where the state historical marker for the lynching of Leo Frank was erected — which is located in the wide spot in the concrete walkway after the curve on the left of the photograph — as well as due to the entrance and exit ramp for the new toll lanes of Interstate 75.

Leo Frank

Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

Summary

The state historical marker for the lynching of Leo Frank is located in Marietta in Georgia on the north side of Roswell Road in Marietta and adjacent to the entrance and exit ramp for the Northwest Corridor Express new toll lanes of Interstate 75.

No official parking spots are designated for the state historical marker for the lynching of Leo Frank — but this is not exactly a place where you will spend the day, so you can park either at the dead end on the southern terminus of Chert Road; or an unused concrete ramp which leads to nowhere is available on the east side of Chert Road next to Interstate 75. You will be within walking and sight distance of your vehicle.

No admission is charged to visit this site, which has no operating hours. No facilities are available either — except at the numerous dining establishments which are nearby if you want to stop for a snack or a meal.

As to whether the lynching of Leo Frank on Tuesday, August 17, 1915 was a verifiable act of justice or simply a brazen act of anti-Semitism, judge for yourself based on both the evidence and conjecture pertaining to the case as presented by this article at Wikipedia — which includes citations if you want to check the sources — as well as the aforementioned article and book by Steve Oney and the statements from Mary Phagan-Kean, which includes this paper of the official position of the Phagan family.

One thing is for certain, as motorists continue to pass by the spot where Leo Frank was lynched: this controversial case represents a dark era in the state of Georgia…

All photographs ©2017 and ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

10 thoughts on “Where Leo Frank Was Lynched 105 Years Ago: Justice — or Anti-Semitism?”

  1. NB_ga says:

    Thanks for this timely and powerful article… if one wants to continue an investigation on Jewish history in the area, consider these options:

    * Kennesaw State University Museum of History and Holocaust Information, located in Cobb County. (the same county as the lynching site) https://historymuseum.kennesaw.edu/
    In fact, according to an article by NPR’s Atlanta affiliate WABE Radio, “The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has chosen Kennesaw State University (KSU) as the first university in the country to earn its “No Place for Hate” designation.”

    * The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, located north midtown Atlanta.
    https://www.thebreman.org/

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Thank you for the links, NB_ga.

      In fact, Kennesaw State University is where I earned my Master of Business Administration degree in their award-winning Executive MBA program.

  2. GUWonder says:

    That a person entertains the idea of a lynching to possibly be a “verifiable act of justice” —as done when you posit a false dichotomy in saying “As to whether the lynching of Leo Frank on Tuesday, August 17, 1915 was a verifiable act of justice or simply a brazen act of anti-Semitism, judge for yourself” — is an insult to the fact that lynchings (in that context too) are an extrajudicial expression of hatred from a collection of people who reject the rule of law and believe in “might makes right” …. as long as they are in the group of “the mighty people” protected by those in charge of the instruments of the state. When in US history has a lynching ever been “a verifiable act of justice”?

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I completely agree with you, GUWonder — but there are some people who do believe that lynching is a verifiable act of justice. I am not one of them. I was simply offering the extremes of a range of what people believe pertaining to Leo Frank.

      Actually, two separate issues comprise this particular and interesting case: whether Leo Frank was indeed guilty of the sexual assault and murder of Mary Phagan — and if so, he deserved to be punished to the fullest extent of the law — and whether the lynching was a result of frustration of the perception of justice not being meted out or of anti-Semitism.

      As you correctly point out, “lynchings…are an extrajudicial expression of hatred from a collection of people who reject the rule of law and believe in ‘might makes right’ … as long as they are in the group of ‘the mighty people’ protected by those in charge of the instruments of the state.” That collection of people who were involved in the kidnapping and lynching of Leo Frank included some respected and high-ranking politicians and business owners — many of who remained anonymous for decades but many of whom have since been identified.

      I chose not to delve into the specifics of this case for this article because so much information is available; but rather highlighted it as a point of interest for domestic travel — especially as traveling internationally is generally not possible for many Americans at this point due to the pandemic.

  3. GUWonder says:

    Why does NB_ga call this a timely article? Does it have something to do with an election in November? 😉

    1. NB_ga says:

      Actually, @GUWonder, this week marks the anniversary of Leo Frank’s death – which would make this timely enough.

      Additionally (which I guess could be loosely tied to the election), it is a good time for a reminder that entire ethnic, racial, and religious groups have been severely marginalized for centuries yet do not feel the need to take to the streets and destroy businesses or kill fellow citizens to avenge their prior poor treatment.

  4. Ariel says:

    By that Theory,The Rosenbergs should not have been killed either! considering There are Streets named after them in Israel.
    b) Jonathan Pollard did much worse damage to this Country,But was Hailed as a Hero by Senator Lieberman, NE Patriots owner Robert “The Massage Parlor”Kraft and more than Half of your Congressmen.
    c) Arnon Milchan stole Nuclear secrets from USA and was helped By the Elite in US,including Robert Deniro. He was awarded Highest award of Israel for stealing US secrets.
    d) So why not have Highways named after the Rosenbergs also?
    Could it be,that Jews stopped naming their children Rosenberg after the Death sentence?

  5. GUWonder says:

    There has been anti-semitism in the US for a very long time, and it’s not gone still.

    Also, what is not gone are attempts to drive apart ethnic minority communities in America so as to undermine the power that arises from living out the motto of E Pluribus Unum.

    American factories/sweatshops that exploited child labor, and more so female child labor, were too often facilitating sexual exploitation of those children. It seems like this incident was a case of a girl from a pencil-making factory being raped and killed. An incident that had nothing to do with whatever Ariel posted above.

  6. GUWonder says:

    NB_ga, you come off as a racist loser by trying to tar at least one or more “entire ethnic, racial, and religious groups” with your ethnic superiority hierarchy thinking and assigning a claim of cultural pathology to any one or more ethnic/racial/religious group not to your liking.

    Of the “ethnic, racial and religions groups” that “have been severely marginalized for centuries”, there is no entire ethnic, racial and religious group in the US that “feel the need to take to the streets and destroy businesses or kill fellow citizens to avenge their prior poor treatment”. There are criminals of every large ethnic/racial/religious background but that criminal behavior does not characterize any group other than the group of criminals.

    1. NB_ga says:

      Fair enough, @GUWonder… my punctuation was unclear and I do seem to include the enormous innocent portion of all populations who are implicated for poor behavior due to the criminal behavior of others of a same or similar “ethnic, racial, and religious group”.

      When one very vocal group openly, and with the support of the national media and many community leaders, chooses to utilize their “race” in a movement title and then use that title to justify horrid, criminal behavior… they do effectively taint their race.

      To my original point, the criminal lynching of Leo Frank (whether he was guilty of the original charges or not) is reprehensible. AND semi-related, to the best of my knowledge, the Jewish population in the US has refrained from forming massive hate groups to avenge the prior poor treatment of their people. I apologize for being unclear in my initial response to you.

      In response to being a “racist loser”, hmmm, obviously not my intent. I do approach this with a certain degree of “white privilege” (as much as I despise that term) but also with a rather unique perspective as the head of a multi-racial family who has dealt with these issues from the inside out for over two decades. As such, I am always interested in engaging in conversation and learning as to how we can all approach and resolve our own bias’ without encroaching on the rights of others.

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