James Edward Johnson

my thoughts from right to left

The lynching of Leo Frank.

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Leo and Lucille Frank during his trial, 1915

Leo and Lucille Frank during his trial, 1915

Jews have it pretty good in the United States.  Indeed, it is the only place where large numbers of Jews have lived as a minority with equal rights  and without having faced genocide or ethnic cleansing.

Even so, Jews have had reason to fear persecution in America.  General Ulysses Grant issued his infamous General Order 11 in 1862, expelling all the Jews of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.   It was revoked within one month – after President Lincoln ordered its revocation.

Even today, hate crimes are disproportionately perpetrated on the basis of an anti-Jewish bias.  Only anti-gay bias is more disproportionate as a motivation for hate crimes in the US.

But, perhaps the worst (certainly the most notorious) hate crime perpetrated against a Jew in the US was the lynching of Leo Frank, 95 years ago today.

Frank was a pencil manufacturer in Atlanta and was accused of murdering a young girl who was an employee at his factory.  He was convicted in a show trial and sentenced to death.  Reports of the trial describe antisemitic outbursts in the courtroom.  There is little doubt that the conviction was the result of an antisemitic animus and that exculpatory evidence was ignored in the trial.

The governor of Georgia commuted Frank’s sentence to life in prison.  In an unsuccessful attempt on his life, Frank’s throat was slit by another inmate.

A group that would later form the (second) Ku Klux Klan began openly planning the lynching of Frank.  Dozens of people were involved.  They went to the jail where he was being held, removed him, and drove him in a motorcade 150 miles to near the home town of the murdered girl.  There he was hanged before a large crowd of onlookers.  No one was charged with his murder.

Frank’s lynching led to many things.  The perpetrators re-established the Ku Klux Klan.  Jews established the Anti-Defamation League.  Half of Georgia’s Jews fled the state.

Thankfully, no Jew has been lynched in America in the interceding 95 years.

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Written by JamesEJ

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 5:30 pm

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