Atlanta (Sep. 8)
Shades of the Leo Frank lynching, which 17 years ago aroused American Jewry, were thrown into bold-relief here when former Governor John M. Slaton wound up his campaign for the United States Senate with a resume of the sensational incident in which he played a leading role.
Since Governor Slaton began his campaign against the present incumbent, Senator William J. Harris, several months ago, the under-current of comment on the historic murder-lynching outrage has been steadily on the increase throughout the state. Although it has risen to the surface on a number of occasions during the warmly combatted campaign and several times recently has demanded the cognizance of Mr. Slaton, it was not until his last speech that the former governor felt obliged to review the incident to explain the part played by himself.
The Frank case involved the accusation of Leo M. Frank, prominent member of Atlanta Jewry and executive of a local pencil factory, for murder of a young woman employee found dead in the factory. The star witness against Frank presented by the solicitor general, was a Negro of criminal record who was watchman for the factory. Many prominent Atlantans expressed confidence in the innocence of Frank and questioned the possible guilt of the Negro watchman.
CASE CARRIED TO SUPREME COURT
The case was carried to the highest courts of the state and nation after Frank was found guilty and sentenced to death. Angered by outside influence enlisted to save Frank, an element of the local populace took part in a considerable display of anti-Semitism and local political office holders indicated that they felt it unwise to take any steps that might be misinterpreted as favoring the friends of Frank.
It was in the midst of such popular hostility that Mr. Slaton, then governor of Georgia, commuted the death sentence of Frank to life imprisonment. There ensued an outburst of disapproval that finally led to the seizure of Frank from prison authorities and his lynching by a mob not far from Atlanta.
In his talk Governor Slaton stated that in commuting Frank’s death sentence he acted strictly on the merits of the case as revealed by impartial investigation and upon the advice of the trial judge. It was predicted at the time that the performance of what he regarded as his duty as governor of the state would result in his political death. In 1914 he ran for the United States Senate, but was defeated and until now has been without political office, although regarded as one of the leading lawyers and best speakers of this section. The solicitor general who persecuted Frank rose to the governorship of the state.
Although the Frank case was thought to be a dead issue when Governor Slaton entered the political arena to oppose Senator Harris this year, the resentment of his leniency to the Jewish manufacturer 17 years ago apparently has been gaining strength since the outset of the campaign. It bids fair again to prove his political stumbling-block when the candidates face public opinion in the Democratic state primaries to be held in a few days.