High profile court cases have a way of capturing the collective attention of the public and dominating news cycles. Think Rodney King, OJ Simpson and Timothy McVeigh, to name a few vastly different circumstances and outcomes. However, despite their differences all these cases shaped — or in many cases brought to the forefront– a major national conversation that extended beyond the courthouse and throughout the nation. While the names listed above may be more familiar to us today, Leo Frank rang just as many bells in the mid 1910s. The quick story of Frank is that he was a young Jew from Brooklyn who relocated to Georgia and became the superintendent of a pencil factory where a young woman was murdered. Frank was quickly suspected, convicted on scant evidence, given a life sentence, then dragged from his cell by a mob and lynched from an oak tree in 1915. You can find a picture of his limp frame hanging from the branch while surrounded at knee level by stone faced white men defiantly staring into the camera, unmasked and indignant. The extrajudicial act was met with both fervent accolades and outrage. The Leo Frank trial and murder served as an indicator of the dripping antisemitism of the American South as well as economic insecurity throughout the region in the post Civil War era. Today, as groups such as the KKK and other fringe elements make more headlines than they have had in years it is highly important to remember past lessons.
The Rosenwald DVD will have an extra feature on Julius Rosenwald’s reaction to the Leo Frank trial and his support of the condemned. Rosenwald had every reason to be fearful of building the schools in the South after this case, but maybe because he was from the North he remained undeterred.
To read more about Leo Frank check out this article on The Tablet here.