MARIETTA, Ga., Aug. 12, 2015 — A century ago this month, a mob broke into a state prison in Milledgeville, Ga., and kidnapped Leo Frank.
Frank, the Jewish superintendent of National Pencil Co., was convicted in 1913 of murdering an employee, 13-year-old Mary Phagan, following a controversial and highly sensationalized trial. Originally sentenced to death, Georgia Gov. John M. Slaton believed Frank might be innocent and subsequently commuted Frank’s sentence to life in prison.
But, that did little to quell the anti-Semitic sentiment prevalent in the state at the time. So, after kidnapping Frank, the mob took him to Marietta, Ga., where Frank was lynched in the early morning hours of Aug. 17, 1915, near where Interstate 75 today crosses State Route 120 in Marietta, Ga.
“The Frank case was like a lightning strike,” The Associated Press quoted Steve Oney, author of “And the Dead Shall Rise,” a 2002 book about the case, as saying. “Everything in the South stood briefly in relief and then it was dark again.”
“The lynching of Leo Frank is a difficult moment in our state’s history and one that still resonates a century later,” said Dr. Richard Banz, executive director of The Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Ga. “While its memory and aftermath are painful even 100 years later, we expect this exhibit to spark an exploration of how we can work together to eliminate bigotry from the public square.”
The centerpiece is a 2,800-square-foot exhibit titled “Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case Revisited,” which will run from Aug. 17 until Nov. 29. The museum is also sponsoring community conversations and a special performance of native Atlantan Alfred Uhry’s Tony Award-winning musical “Parade” on Aug.19 at the Strand Theater in nearby Marietta.
The exhibit brings to life the events of 100 year ago through one-of-a-kind artifacts from both Frank and Phagan. Artifacts on display include Frank’s National Pencil Co. desk, personal belongings from Phagan and the door to the Milledgeville prison infirmary the mob allegedly opened when kidnapping Frank.
“Conversations about events such as the lynching of Leo Frank are never easy, but they will lead to a better understanding of one another,” former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, who is leading the committee charged with fundraising and organizing programming, said.
“When we shy away from tackling controversial and complex topics, we allow misunderstandings to fester,” Barnes added. “But, by having an ongoing dialogue about sensitive issues, we can understand not just what makes us different, but how our shared experiences have helped shape and define our cultures.”
The Southern Museum is partnering with the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta and the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University on the exhibit. For more information, visit southernmuseum.org.