Remembering Leo Frank’s Lynching


By Rabbi Josh Knobel, Stephen Wise Temple

Leo Frank, Photo from Wikipedia

For those of us keeping count, today marks the 105th anniversary of Leo Frank’s lynching in Atlanta. A 31-year-old New York Jew turned manager of an Atlanta pencil factory, he had spent two years in prison for the murder of Mary Phagan, a twelve-year old employee of the factory, before 28 men referring to themselves as the “Knights of Mary Phagan”—including Mary’s uncle and a former Georgia governor—abducted Frank from his prison cell and took him to Phagan’s small hometown near Marietta, where they lynched him.

History ultimately exonerated Frank of his crimes, and he received a posthumous pardon in 1986. Despite incriminating evidence against the factory’s watchman and janitor, police remained convinced that Frank, denounced for his identity as a Jew, a Northerner, and an industrialist, was the killer. No one, unfortunately, was ever charged for his lynching.

Leo Frank’s lynching on the morning of August 17, 1915. Photo from Wikipedia

The injustice apparent in Frank’s trial in 1913 and his death in 1915 clearly illustrated that America carried the same potential for antisemitic rhetoric and violence that had characterized European life for centuries. Such a palpable threat galvanized much of the American Jewry, inspiring them to act in concert to protect the interests of the American Jewish community. Organizations such as the nascent Anti-Defamation League committed themselves toward identifying and combatting antisemitic activity, a task that, regrettably, remains more relevant today than in decades past.

As antisemitic propaganda and violence begin to grow in earnest in the United States for the first time in decades, the American Jewish community finds itself more divided than ever before, having been drawn into the sectarian politics that have divided the country. In the wake of Leo Frank’s lynching, the American Jewish community came together to lead America toward greater understanding and acceptance. What will it take for us to do so once again?

By Rabbi Josh Knobel, Stephen Wise Temple

Rabbi Josh Knobel

Lisa Ellen Niver

Lisa Niver is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 102 countries on six continents. This University of Pennsylvania graduate sailed across the seas for seven years with Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Renaissance Cruises and spent three years backpacking across Asia. Discover her articles in publications from AARP: The Magazine and AAA Explorer to WIRED and Wharton Magazine, as well as her site WeSaidGoTravel. On her award nominated global podcast, Make Your Own Map, Niver has interviewed Deepak Chopra, Olympic medalists, and numerous bestselling authors, and as a journalist has been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded three Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and been a finalist twenty-two times. Named a #3 travel influencer for 2023, Niver talks travel on broadcast television at KTLA TV Los Angeles, her YouTube channel with over 2 million views, and in her memoir, Brave-ish, One Breakup, Six Continents and Feeling Fearless After Fifty.

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