Auction 86 - Part I - Rare & Important Items

Collection of Items Connected to the Leo Frank Affair – His Lynching and the Legal Battle for his Exoneration, Decades after his Murder – A Modern Blood Libel

Opening: $5,000
Estimate: $8,000 - $12,000

Collection comprising some 25 items dealing with various aspects of the story of Leo Frank, an American Jew convicted in the 1913 murder of the young girl Mary Phagan, in Atlanta, Georgia, in the American Deep South, and subsequently lynched by an organized mob. The collection includes a postcard with a photograph showing Frank's hanged body; a piano roll for a player piano, with the melody of a ballad written about the murder; extensive legal correspondence dating from the 1980s regarding the struggle led by the Anti-Defamation League to exonerate Frank (letters and memoranda), and more. United States, 20th century. English.

The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank: A Modern Blood Libel
Lynchings and violent expressions of racial discrimination against Afro-Americans were routine occurrences in the American Deep South in the early 20th century. Savage acts of anti-Semitism such as the Leo Frank Affair were, in contrast, quite rare. A toxic mixture of hatreds – racism, anti-Semitism, tensions between disparate socioeconomic groups, mutual loathing between "traditional Southerners" and "progressive Yankees" from the North – was brought to bear, and Frank's brutal lynching was the tragic result.
The story began to unfold on April 27, 1913, when the body of 13-year-old Mary Phagan was found in the cellar of the pencil factory where she worked and from where she had been fired days earlier. The body was discovered by the factory's night watchman, Newt Lee, and he was the one who summoned the police. One day before that, Phagan had returned to the factory to claim her final salary, only to be robbed, raped, and brutally murdered on the spot. A number of suspects were arrested; the prime suspects were Lee, the night watchman, and Jim Conley, the factory's janitor – both Afro-Americans – and the company manager, Leo Frank, a well-to-do Jew who had been raised and educated in New York. The police investigation was badly mishandled, and was tainted by anti-Northern resentment and anti-Semitism. Following several months of investigation, Frank was put on trial, charged with murder. The prosecution based its case on dubious testimonies regarding Frank's "inappropriate" behavior and his allegedly suspicious conduct the day after the murder, and most notably, on the word of Conley, the janitor, who testified that he had assisted Frank in moving the body from the floor where she was murdered to the cellar.
The trial was the subject of extensive media coverage that reached all parts of the United States. The print media highlighted the sensationalist aspects of the case, and heaped criticism on the police from a number of different directions, on one hand addressing the problematic nature of the process that led to the murder charge, and, on the other hand, putting pressure on the police to bring about a swift conviction. In Georgia itself, the trial – and even more so, the reports and headlines in the news media – led to a surging wave of anti-Semitism, alongside a vitriolic campaign of hatred aimed personally at Frank. The fact that the primary suspects in the murder were all either Jewish or Afro-American created an atmosphere of tension between the two communities.
On August 28, 1913, the trial jury found Leo Frank guilty as charged, and he was sentenced to death. Notwithstanding the outsized influence of public opinion – heavily tainted by anti-Semitic sentiments – on the jury's decision, and despite the many flaws and irregularities in the investigative and judicial proceedings, Frank's appeals were all dismissed, one after another. Frank's death sentence, was, however, commuted by Georgia's governor, John Slaton, to life imprisonment (the commutation infuriated the public, and essentially ended Slaton's political career), and he was consequently sent to prison.
In the summer of 1915, Frank was stabbed by a fellow inmate. He was severely injured, and admitted for treatment at the prison's infirmary. Several days later, following the governor's announcement of the commutation of the death sentence, a "Vigilance Committee" was convened in the city where Mary Phagan was born, Marietta (northwest of Atlanta). The dozens of members of the Committee represented all sectors of society, including prominent public officials (such as Georgia's former governor, policemen, and the mayor). The Committee decided to subject Frank to a lynching in order to show, in their words, "that a sense of justice lives among the people." In a meticulously well-orchestrated and well-executed operation, they broke into the prison, kidnapped Frank – still hospitalized in the prison's infirmary – and brought him to Marietta, where they hanged him in broad daylight. The incident, attended at one point by many hundreds of onlookers, was documented in photographs. The names of the numerous perpetrators were known to all, but not a single one of them was prosecuted. Many viewed the lynching as the natural outcome of "popular justice, " and celebrated it as a notable achievement. Frank's body was sent for burial in New York.
Among other consequences, the incident led to a mass exodus of Jews from Georgia and the establishment of the Anti-Defamation League by the B'nai B'rith organization. But there were darker consequences as well; the lynching also triggered the re-establishment of the Ku Klux Klan at the hands of a group that called itself "The Knights of Mary Phagan." The organization continues to exist in this incarnation till this day.
The Posthumous Pardon
In 1982, an affidavit was published in the American newspaper "The Tennessean." It was given by Alonzo Mann, who, as a teenager, had worked for Leo Frank in the pencil factory, and was one of the witnesses who had testified in the original trial. In the affidavit, Mann provided new details regarding the murder – details that would identify Mary Phagan's true murderer asJim Conley, and thus serve to exonerate Leo Frank. Mann's new testimony set the stage for a long process, initiated by lawyers representing the Anti-Defamation League, aimed at clearing Frank's name. The bulk of the present collection consists of various legal documents and pieces of legal correspondence related to the ADL's initiative. Eventually, in 1986, this initiative reached a successful conclusion with Frank being granted a full posthumous pardon, owing to the failure of the state to fulfill its duty to protect him from his murderers – this despite the fact that he was never actually absolved of his guilty verdict in the murder of Mary Phagan.

Included in the present collection:
• "Souvenir postcard" with photo showing Frank's hanged body shortly after the lynching. Postcards of this sort, featuring different photographs from the scene of the lynching, were sold as souvenirs for years after the incident, as were other forms of "memorabilia, " including strips cut from the clothing worn by Frank at the time, and pieces of the hanging rope or noose (early decades of the 20th century).
• Booklet issued by the Rhodes' Colossus factory of Atlanta in support of Leo Frank, decrying the injustice of his conviction (1915).
• A piano roll for a player piano, with the melody of the ballad "Little Mary Phagan" relating the tale of the murder (1925). The ballad's lyrics are printed alongside the perforations on the rolled sheet.
• Issues of the newspapers "The New York Times" (June 22, 1915) and "The Denver Express" (May 27, 1915) containing news items relating to the incident.
• Vol. No. 10 of "American State Trials, " containing extensive coverage of the trial of Leo Frank. This volume was published as part of a series of books documenting the most famous of America's criminal trials. Edited by John D. Lawson, published by F.H. Thomas Law Book Co., St. Louis, Missouri, 1918.
• Copy of a document containing a list of the names of the members of the legal committee established for the purpose of clearing Frank's name ("Lawyers' Committee – Leo M. Frank"), chaired by Dale Schwartz. [1982?]
• Approximately 20 copies of letters and memoranda (apparently, formerly in the possession of Gary Jackson, an attorney and judge) pertaining to efforts to clear Frank's name – efforts that began roughly seventy years after the lynching: letters and memoranda issued by individuals representing the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, and various lawyers, most of them working for the legal firm Troutman, Sanders, Lockerman & Ashmore of Atlanta, Georgia; letters and memoranda written by the attorney Dale Schwartz, as well as letters and memoranda received by him and by others – letters from various legal experts, reports on the progress of the legal proceedings, and legal strategy of the "Lawyers' Committee" (perhaps most notable among them is a letter from attorney Lewis H. Weinstein – renowned for his part in the successful clearing of the names of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti many years after their execution in Massachusetts – in which he offers advice regarding the legal efforts to clear Frank's name). Taken together, all the above documents clearly reveal the sequence of events in the process leading up to the pardon.
One of the letters sent by attorney Dale Schwartz was addressed to Lewis Slaton, District Attorney of Fulton County, Georgia (which includes most of the municipal area of Atlanta) and is dated April 8, 1982. The letter was sent following a meeting that took place the previous day, in which Schwartz and his colleagues – Charles Wittenstein and Sidney Feldman – discussed the matter of clearing Frank's name with the District Attorney. In the letter, Schwartz argues that in light of the recent affidavit delivered by Alonzo Mann, one of the original witnesses in the trial, it has been proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Leo Frank did not murder Mary Phagan. In an intriguing memorandum dated June, 1982, Dale Schwartz lays out the full course of action to be adopted in the legal campaign seeking Leo Frank's pardon. In another important letter, dated March 21, 1986, attorney Gary Jackson thanks the Governor of the State of Georgia, for granting Leo Frank a posthumous pardon.
• A copy of the official application (dated December 9, 1982) requesting a posthumous pardon, submitted to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles. The application was jointly submitted by three organizations, namely the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the American Jewish Committee, and the Atlanta Jewish Federation.

Also enclosed:
• A glass Coca-Cola bottle bearing the inscription "Leo Frank Innocent" on its label (2015, English).
• A color picture showing the victim of a lynching in the American South, enclosed in an envelope bearing the message "WARNING The enclosed photograph is very disturbing" (contemporary anti-racist promotional material).

Size and condition vary.

• Elaine Alphin, "Unspeakable Crime: the Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank, " Carolrhoda Books, Minneapolis / New York, 2014.
• Jeffrey Melnick, "Black-Jewish Relations on Trial: Leo Frank and Jim Conley in the New South, " University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 2000.

Antisemitism, The Holocaust
Antisemitism, The Holocaust