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Alabama Law Review

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Leo Frank was murdered by a lynch mob in Marietta, Georgia, on August 15, 1915. He had been found guilty of the murder of Mary Phagan, a thirteen-year-old girl who worked in his factory, but his sentence of death had been commuted to life imprisonment by Governor John M. Slaton, who believed him to be innocent. Frank was unquestionably denied due process at his trial and was almost certainly innocent. But what is material here is the antisemitism that poisoned the trial and that fired up the mob that murdered him.

During the trial, crowds outside the courthouse chanted, “Hang the Jew.” The judge and the defense attorneys were threatened that they would not leave the courtroom alive if the “damned Jew” were acquitted. There is reason to believe that jurors were subjected to similar intimidation. Witnesses swore in affidavits after the conviction that two jurors had made antisemitic remarks before the trial, including, “I am glad they indicted the God damn Jew. They ought to take him out and lynch him. And if I get on that jury I'd hang that Jew sure.” The prosecutor told the jury about Jewish criminals, including “Schwartz, who killed a little girl in New York.” The prosecutor also compared Frank to Judas Iscariot.

The members of the mob that lynched Leo Frank were among the “best citizens” of Marietta. They included a minister, two former appellate court justices, and a former sheriff. The Dean of the Atlanta Theological Seminary later described the lynchers as a select group, “sober, intelligent, of established good name and character—good American citizens” and led by a man who “bore ‘as reputable a name as you would ever hear in a lawful community ... a man honored and respected.’ ”


Paper presented at the a Symposium on To Kill a Mockingbird held at The University of Alabama School of Law.



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