Delayed Justice: New Museum Special Exhibit Opening Sept. 1 Reexamines Historic Controversial Case

Leo Frank
Leo Frank

This exhibit, examines anti-Semitism in America. Through a large number of artifacts, it revisits the murder case and trial that ultimately captured the attention of the nation and led to the lynching of a Jewish man in Marietta, GA in 1915.

Exhibit Dates: September 1, 2013 through December 31, 2013

Location: Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance, 211 N. Record Street, Dallas, TX 75202 (In the West End Historic District of downtown Dallas at the southwest corner of Pacific and Record.)

Hours: Monday-Friday 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

For Leo Frank, justice arrived too late to prevent his tragic and unlawful lynching. Today, however, his story finds a measure of redemption, serving as a powerful reminder of the evils of prejudice, hatred and indifference.

The Dallas Holocaust Museum will host its newest special exhibit, “Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case Revisited,” beginning Sept. 9. The exhibit will run through Tuesday, Dec. 31.

“Seeking Justice” will examine anti-Semitism in America. Through a large number of artifacts, the exhibit revisits the murder case and trial of Frank, which captured the attention of a nation a century ago.

In 1913, a jury convicted Frank, a Jewish superintendent in a pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia, of the murder of a child laborer who worked in the factory. Thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan’s body was found in the pencil factory cellar.

Frank’s conviction came after a long trial. To the outrage of many, Governor John Slaton, who believed Frank was innocent, commuted the former superintendent’s sentence to life in prison on his last day in office in June 1915.

Two months later, a lynch mob of 25 armed men, including pillars of Georgia’s legal community, kidnapped Frank from prison. The mob drove Frank 150 miles to Frey’s Gin, near Phagan’s home in Marietta, and hanged him. A large crowd gathered and took photographs.

In 1986, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles pardoned Frank, citing the state’s failure to protect the Jewish superintendent and bring his killers to justice as reasons for the pardoning.

The pardon was inspired in part by the 1982 testimony of Alonzo Mann, who as an office boy saw Jim Conley carrying Mary Phagan’s body to the basement on the day of her death. Conley had threatened to kill Mann if he said anything, and the boy’s mother advised him to keep silent.

The testimony gave confirmation to those who thought Frank was innocent. However, those who found Frank guilty still believed the testimony provided insufficient evidence to change their views.

The trial had long- and far-reaching impact. It struck fear in Jewish southerners, causing them to monitor their behavior in the region closely for the next 50 years—until the civil rights movement led to more significant changes.

The Leo Frank caused ripples well beyond Atlanta, GA. The case ignited the rebirth of the KKK and solidified the founding of the Anti-Defamation League.

We present this exhibit with the same intent as The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, which developed it.

To revisit the case of Leo Frank and pose critical questions relating to individual and moral responsibility, respect for individual difference, the fragility of the democratic process, responsible citizenship, and the importance of community.

The exhibit presents the complicated and nuanced story of Mary Phagan’s murder, Leo Frank’s fate, and the historical, cultural, and political backdrop against which these events took place.

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