One of the most horrific episodes of anti-Semitism in American history – the lynching of Leo Frank – began 100 years ago last week. On April 27, 1913, a night watchman found the bloody body of 13-year-old Mary Phagan in a factory basement in Atlanta. Police arrested the superintendent, a New York Jew named Leo Frank.
The city exploded. Angry anti-Semitic mobs vowed revenge. They gathered outside the courthouse during Frank’s trial screaming: “Hang that Jew or we’ll hang you!”
The jury convicted Frank despite contradictory testimony, and sentenced him to death. After Georgia’s governor commuted Frank’s sentence to life in prison, mobs howled, and hanged the governor in effigy above a sign reading: “John M. Slaton King of Jews.” Eventually, a lynch mob of ostensibly upstanding citizens – including a judge, a mayor and a former governor – kidnapped Frank from jail and hanged him.
In 1986, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles pardoned Frank, citing the state’s inability to protect him or bring his killers to justice. One good thing came from the affair: the birth of the Anti-Defamation League, a group that, to this day, fights anti-Semitism and bigotry around the world.