5th Avenue Theatre Parade Hairspray Anything Goes 1776

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The facts of Leo Frank's trial were fascinating.

The Leo Frank Case

In 1913, Leo Frank, a Jewish Northerner who had moved to Atlanta to manage the National Pencil Factory, was accused of murdering Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old employee.

A volatile atmosphere surrounded Frank's trial, intensified by sometimes inflammatory coverage by the media — in particular Tom Watson's anti-Semitic Jeffersonian newspaper. Leo Frank was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. After reviewing the case, Governor John Slaton commuted Frank's sentence to life imprisonment, a decision that effectively ended Slaton's political career and infuriated a mob of vigilantes. On August 17, 1915, 25 armed men took Frank from his cell and lynched him. Members of the mob were never identified or prosecuted.

The trial and lynching of Leo Frank were seminal events in American religious and race relations and spoke of great unrest and resentment in the South caused in part by industrialization, urbanization and child labor. The case highlighted the need for the Anti-Defamation League, which to this day fights against anti-Semitism, prejudice and bigotry all over the world. The case has also been cited as a catalyst for the Ku Klux Klan, which conducted its first modern-era cross burning in the aftermath of the lynching.

We may never know who killed Mary Phagan. In 1914, after Frank's conviction, the lawyer for Jim Conley, the prosecution's key witness, publicly announced that he believed his client lied. When the Governor commuted Leo's sentence, he found that "the court and jury were terrorized by a mob." In 1982, a witness came forward who had been afraid to testify at the trial: Alonzo Mann, once the office boy for the pencil factory, claimed he had seen someone else carrying Mary Phagan's body. Unfortunately, modern forensics cannot shed light on the case. All the case's evidence, held by prosecutor Hugh Dorsey, disappeared in the 1950s; the transcript of the trial was stolen from the Fulton County courthouse in the 1960s. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has acknowledged Georgia's failure to protect Leo Frank while he was in custody, but has not addressed his guilt or innocence. In the year 2000, an incomplete and controversial list of Frank's lynchers was published on the internet, and related stories have appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. One of the first "trials of the century," the Leo Frank case was national front-page news in its day. The controversy has not died; it still inflames passions and ignites debate today.