In April 1913 Leo Max Frank, the superintendent of a pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia, murdered a 13-year-old White female employee who spurned his sexual advances. In August 1913, after what was then the longest trial in Georgia history, Frank was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.
When the outgoing Governor of Georgia, John Slaton, then commuted Frank’s sentence amid accusations that he had been bought, a group of respected citizens that included a former governor, the son of a senator, a Methodist minister, a state legislator, and a former state Superior Court judge, went to the prison where Frank was held, took him away, pronounced sentence, and hanged him. By this lynching, it was felt, the rich man who had murdered a poor girl was prevented from using his wealth and influence to escape justice.
Organized Jewry has always tried to obfuscate Frank’s guilt. There are two arguments that are used to this end.
First, there is the claim that Leo Frank was prosecuted and convicted because of anti-Semitism. This claim was rejected by credible prominent Georgians at the time.
Governor John Slaton was asked by the New York Times, in the period after the commutation but before the lynching, about whether hostility toward Jews had been a factor in the prosecution of Frank. Contrary to what is commonly asserted today, his response was in the negative:
No Race Prejudice.“Do you think the question of race prejudice had anything to do with the case against Frank?“No. You will find prejudice against foreigners on the part of some people in Georgia just as you will find the same thing in New England, here in New York, or anywhere else. Georgia is as human as any state in the Union.”“Is there any prejudice against Jews in Georgia as a result of the Frank case?”“I answer that question by pointing to the fact that one of the Trustees of the Colony of Georgia under Oglethorpe was Minas, a Jew, whose descendants to this day are among the best and most highly respected of Georgians. The head of the Education Board in Atlanta is a Jew, and so is the Vice President of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. My own law-partner, Mr. Phillips, is a Jew. Some of the best of Georgians are Jews.” [New York Times, 30 June 1915]
In fact some antipathy toward Jews had developed in Georgia as a result of events relating to the Frank case, but the hostility toward Slaton himself, for his actions on behalf of organized Jewry, seems to have been greater. At a public demonstration in Marietta, Slaton was called “King of the Jews” for commuting Frank’s sentence.
“I know it,” said the Governor. “This awful horror hurts the State. But I don’t think the North has had the right idea about the feeling against this dead man. It was not for the reasons that have been given for it. It was not because he was a Jew; there never was any anti-Jewish feeling in Georgia until now. It was because, in the first place, there is something that unbalances men. Here in the South where women are concerned. I won’t call it chivalry, or call it anything; it is, if you like, something that destroys a man’s ability and even willingness to do cold and exact justice. I have been a lawyer for over forty years, and have had many cases in the courts, and I have found that where a woman is the plaintiff she will get twice the damages a man would who had the same case.“That is the way it is in the South; it cannot be argued against, and must be accepted as a fact. If a woman is the victim of a crime, a fury seizes upon our men.[…]“Now, that was the first thing. But there was another thing that roused bitterness against Frank, and it was outside interference. From all over the Union there came an attempt to govern Georgia’s action. Detectives were sent here, petitions circulated, resolutions passed, attacks made upon the State. Whether it should have aroused resentment may be a question, but that it did there is no question whatever.“These are two things that in the first place created anger against Frank.”“Not among the ignorant classes, surely,” said the correspondent. “They don’t read papers from other States.”“But they learned what those papers were saying,” answered the Governor. “What was said outside of the State was commented on by the papers here, and Tom Watson in his weekly published parts of the original criticisms; whether correctly quoted or not, I do not know. All classes in Georgia knew what was being said and done, and knew of the organized efforts to set Frank free, and every one of these efforts deepened the feeling against him.”“You said a while ago that there had never been any anti-Jewish feeling in the State until now,” said the correspondent. “Is there now?”“I am afraid there is,” said the Governor reluctantly. “But I hope it is only a flurry and will pass away. It is among the more thoughtless of our people. There has never been an atom, never a trace or a thought of it. The Jews have always been our friends; we have here the best class of Jews. For a man to be known as a Jew was actually an asset to him in a business way. But among the thoughtless elements there has grown up – temporarily, I hope – a feeling that the Jews banded themselves together as a race or a religion to save a criminal, and out of that has grown a feeling of hostility. [New York Times, 20 August 1915]
The affidavit produced in March of 1982 by 83-year old Alonzo M. Mann truly beggars belief.
Mann was an office boy working in Leo Frank’s second-floor office at the time of the murder and was called as a defense witness during Frank’s murder trial. Mann testified at that trial that he worked with Frank in the latter’s office during the morning of the April 26, 1913 murder and left the office at 11:30 a.m. He also testified as to his belief in Frank’s good character. […]
Of course, Mann’s affidavit does not rise to the dignity of the trial testimony of Jim Conley which it is apparently intended to challenge. Conley testified under oath, pursuant to examination by the prosecution attorneys and was vigorously cross-examined for some three days by the very capable lead attorneys for Frank’s defense team. Trial observers and counsel for both prosecution and defense agreed that Conley’ s testimony had not been broken by the cross-examination. It was a critical element, among many, in corroborating the circumstantial evidence and other evidence leading to Frank’s conviction.
Among the questions which are raised by Mann’s affidavit [of 1982] are:
Why has he come forward only at this late date? He was interviewed in 1913 by the Atlanta police investigating the crime and by defense counsel for Frank. If he had any information to shed on the crime such as he now purports to set forth in his affidavit, would it not have been extracted by skilled interrogators from a fourteen-year old boy? Would he not have volunteered it at that time?
Mann’s assertion that he was afraid of Conley and Conley’s purported threat to kill him if he revealed what he saw that day hardly merits belief. Conley was arrested on the Tuesday after the crime (despite Frank’ s efforts to shield him) and remained in jail from that day throughout the trial and for a year after his own conviction for being an accomplice-after-the-fact in Mary Phagan’s murder, leaving Mann in complete safety. In addition, Conley died in 1962, a fact which must have been known to Mann; hence, why his silence for the following twenty years?
Likewise, Mann’s assertion that his mother’s admonition to say nothing about what he had seen seems most unlikely to be followed by any fourteen-year old youth with the slightest semblance of conscience. Concealing evidence in a murder trial is, of course, a crime in itself. Mann purported to have a regard for Frank and after Frank’s conviction, if not before, surely he would have come forward with whatever favorable evidence he had.
In addition, Atlanta was covered by agents and operatives on behalf of Frank’s defense before, during and for many months after the trial seeking out any scrap of information pertaining to the crime and Frank’s conviction. Large sums of money were expended in this process, rewards were offered, and promises made.
Again, it cannot be believed that Mann would not have come forward during these well publicized searches.
Mann asserts that he saw Conley on the first floor of the building between the elevator shaft and the trap door to the basement, carrying a female body. Mann places himself between Conley and the front door which afforded him a ready way of escape. Mann knew that Frank was (or should have been) upstairs in the second floor office at the time; he also knew workmen were in the building on the upper floors — all affording ready means of assistance to him and to the victim. In addition, the streets outside the factory were teeming with the thousands of people who had assembled to watch the Confederate Memorial Day Parade which Mary Phagan had herself intended to observe. Mann had only to retrace his few steps to the front door and sound the alarm to produce numbers of rescuers who would have been more than eager to mete out punishment to Conley for what was at that time the most heinous offense in Georgia moral structure, the rape and murder of a White girl by a Black male. Could any fourteen-year old boy in the Atlanta of 1913 be so craven or frightened as to not, even if he did not seek to help the victim personally, cry out for assistance from any of these sources? To pose the question is to answer it.
In short, Mann’s affidavit lacks credibility.
Perhaps of greater significance is that Mann’s recitation of the scene that he saw, i.e., Jim Conley carrying the body of a girl towards the trap door leading to the basement, is not inconsistent with the prosecution’s case on which Frank’s conviction was based, i.e., that Frank waited for Mary Phagan to appear in his office for her pay, lured her into the metal room, assaulted her there, struck and killed her when she resisted his advances and, subsequently, called for Conley to come to the second floor, collect the body and remove it to the basement for incineration or later removal. If the scene that Mann now asserts took place, it varies from the prosecution’s case so insignificantly as to be not worthy of any motion to this Board for a new review of Frank’s case, much less a “posthumous pardon.” In particular, it does not explain away all those other factors which pointed to Frank’s guilt. [Tom Watson Brown, Notes on the Case of Leo Max Frank and its Aftermath(1982)]
If there was no particular hostility toward Jews in Georgia prior to the prosecution of Leo Frank for murder, and if Alonzo Mann’s affidavit changes nothing, then there is no sound basis for continuing to claim, as organized Jewry has been wont to do, that Leo Frank was an innocent victim of anti-Semitism.
Listen to Carolyn Yeager and Hadding Scott discuss the case.