Over A Century Later They’re Still Trying To Lynch Leo Frank

Leo Frank was not a likable man. By contemporary accounts, he was no paragon of magnanimity. On top of that, he was a Jew in Georgia in 1913—not the safest spot to be for a difficult man of a minority religion (some would say race). When a mob kidnapped and lynched him after he was wrongly accused and found guilty of the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl, the ensuing storm of reaction at once enabled the haters—the Ku Klux Klan gained people, prestige and power—and served as a warning for the hated. After the lynching, around half of Georgia’s 3,000 Jews left the state

Leo Frank (public domain)
Leo Frank (public domain)

According to author Steve Oney, “What it did to Southern Jews can’t be discounted ... It drove them into a state of denial about their Judaism. They became even more assimilated, anti-Israel, Episcopalian. The Temple did away with chuppahs [ceremonial canopies] at weddings—anything that would draw attention.” To combat the always-present but now nakedly prevalent bigotry against Jews, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)—an organization dedicated to fighting antisemitism and the culture of hate—was born.

110 years later the effort to validate Frank’s innocence carries on. With a guilty verdict based on little to no evidence and with a key witness coming forward to assert that false testimony doomed an innocent man, the accused received a posthumous pardon in 1986 from the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles. The Board refrained from absolving him of guilt, but granted the pardon as a recognition of the state’s culpability in failing to protect him while he was in custody. Then in 2019, the Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney created a panel to reinvestigate the case with the aim of resolving all dispute and argument once and for all.

As evidence that the Frank case and its repercussions are as relevant today as they were over a century ago, a revival of the musical, Parade, based on the Frank affair, attracted a knot of demonstrators on its first preview night in February 2023. Targeting Leo Frank, the ADL, and the line of theatre-goers, the group carried a banner advertising the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group conspicuously at the center of the action in the notorious Charlottesville “Unite The Right” rally. One masked protester handed out fliers that promoted a separate group with neo-Nazi symbols and told people outside the theater that they were about to “worship a pedophile.”

In a statement condemning the demonstration, the show’s producers said, “If there is any remaining doubt out there about the urgency of telling this story in this moment in history, the vileness on display last night should put it to rest. We stand by the valiant Broadway cast that brings this vital story to life each night.”

The show’s lead actor, Ben Platt, who portrays Leo Frank, said, “For those who don’t know, there were a few neo-Nazi protesters from a really disgusting group outside of the theater, bothering some of our patrons on their way in and saying antisemitic things about Leo Frank, who the show is about, and just spreading antisemitic rhetoric that led to this whole story in the first place. If you don’t know about it, I encourage you to look up the story and most importantly encourage you to come see the show, and it was definitely very ugly and scary but a wonderful reminder of why we’re telling this particular story and how special and powerful art and, particularly, theater can be. And just made me feel extra, extra grateful to be the one who gets to tell this particular story and to carry on this legacy of Leo.”

Over a century later they’re still trying to lynch Leo Frank—no matter the false testimony, no matter the lack of evidence. They’re lynching him because he’s guilty of the crime of continuing to exist in our collective memory—proof that no matter how shrill the shrieks of hate, they can never outlast the quiet simplicity of truth.


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ADL Antisemitism