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70 Years Later, Jewish Lynching Victim is Absolved of Murder

March 9, 1982
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The anti-Semitic frenzy that swept Atlanta, Go., nearly 70 years ago, culminating in the lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory employe, was recalled by the revelations of 83-year-old Alonzo Mann that absolve Frank of the murder for which he was found guilty in 1913.

Frank, then 29, a supervisor at a local pencil factory, was convicted of killing 14-year-old Mary Phagan who worked at the factory. Mann, a teenager at the time also employed at the factory, told the Nashville Tennessean, that he saw the true murderer, janitor Jim Conley, carrying the limp body of the dead girl to the basement.

Frank’s sensational trial drew mobs to the Atlanta courthouse shouting “Kill the Jew.” One newspaper referred to the accused as a “Jew Sodomite.” Frank was convicted and sentenced to hang, but in 1915 Georgia Gov. John Slaton commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. This revived mob Fury. Vigilantes, calling themselves Knights of Mary Phagan, dragged Frank from the prison form where he was held and hanged him in Marietta, Ga.

EVENTS LED TO FORMATION OF THE ADL

The Knights of Mary Phagan became the nucleus of the re-born Ku Klux Klan in Georgia. Armed anti-Semitic mobs roamed the streets of Atlanta, forcing Jewish shopkeepers to board up their places of business. Jewish businesses were boycotted and about half the state’s 3,000 Jews reportedly moved away. Those events led to the formation of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

Mann, who knew the truth about the Phagan murder, told the Jennessean reporters Jerry Thompson and Robert Shelbome that he kept silent initially out of fear. Conley had threatened to kill him. His mother warned him not to speak out and he volunteered no information during his brief testimony at the Frank trial.

The frail, ill octogenarian said that years later he tried to tell his story but was ignored by the authorities and the press. He said he revealed it now to ease the burden on his conscience before he dies. According to the Tennessean, a two-month investigation confirmed that Mann’s account was accurate in every detail. Mann submitted to lie detector and other tests.

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