Jerry Summers: Leo Frank - Paul Harvey Version

  • Monday, November 1, 2021
  • Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

On September 20, 2021, I wrote an article under the Happenings column titled “Leo Frank – Atlanta’s Murder Victim.”

            Since I started submitting this and many other historical accounts dealing with persons, places, and events in the South over the past few years I have been surprised by the number of e-mails that I have received from readers with comments about the content of the writings.

            Research today is often accomplished by the use of the Internet and social media.

            If it is a topic that I have some personal knowledge or obtained through surviving witnesses, I will often supplement the content of the prior data with my own thoughts.

            Sometimes due to the age of the subject my articles will follow a particular path which I have tried to review, revise and not just cut and paste what a prior writer has stated outside any legal documents.

            To this extent, I have and hopefully always will welcome countervailing versions in an effort to write the truth (or at least present both sides of disputed history) in the tradition of well-known journalist and commentator Paul Harvey to “tell the other side of the story.”

            In that vein, on Thursday, October 14, 2021, I received in the mail a copy of a 531- page paperback novel titled “The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews – The Leo Frank Case-The Lynching of a Guilty Man.”  It is Volume 3 of multiple works that are strongly criticized by many scholars as being antisemitic and misinterpreting the historical record.

            The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) (formerly the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith) was founded in 1913 and is an international Jewish non-governmental organization that was created after the verdict in the Leo Frank murder case.

            The book was written by the Nation of Islam and supposedly was sent to me by a descendant of the murder victim, 13-year-old Mary Phagan.

            Although the sender clearly used their name and even included their mailing address, I see no reason to reveal their identity in this article although in this era of no secrecy over the world wide web I will leave that disclosure to the curious few who desire to seek that information.

            Obviously, the version in this book of the historical case involves a different interpretation of the facts and identify of the alleged murderer presented in the Leo Frank case.  It also is contrary to my initial article’s final remarks by others.  Included in the voluminous treatise are examples of specific articles in national and Georgia newspapers that clearly show an elaborate and expensive campaign to create the sympathetic image that Leo Frank was wrongly convicted and executed by a mob.

            Pro and con documents address the numerous appeals through various trial and appellate courts that finally decided the legal issues that were addressed by the Georgia and U.S. Supreme Courts.  The Nation of Islam book presents alleged multiple factual accounts of unethical conduct, bribery of witnesses and conflicts of interest that tarnish the very fiber of the legal justice system that existed in America at that time.  “Yellow journalism” was committed without any restraint on both sides of the questions of guilt or innocent issue of the accused.

            Paul Harvey would address this “other side of the story,” and I am trying to do so likewise with the intent of presenting a complete picture.  The unpleasant subjects of anti-Semitism, the tragic conflicts between all races and the divisions in our country (and the world) unfortunately have existed for thousands of years and remain in place today.

            The book I received that was authored by the Nation of Islam in 2016 contains over 1,200 selective footnotes, quotations and both legal and newspaper sources since the death of Leo Frank by a lynch mob after he was involuntarily removed from the state prison in Milledgeville.  He was transported to the hometown of the victim, Mary Phagan, in Marietta and his hanging took place at Frey’s Gin on August 17, 1915.

            It boldly asserts that “anti-Semitism” was never raised in the trial court by either side but the attack on the state's main witness, a black employee, Jim Conley, at Leo Frank’s place of employment at the National Pencil Company, as manager was prevalent throughout as an “anti-black defense.”

            However, after the verdict of guilt and the sentence of death was rendered by the Court it was asserted and shown that a national anti-Semitism defense campaign was started by Jewish leaders in the news media, religious, merchandising, financial, and advertising industries that would continue until the post-humous pardon of Frank in 1986 by the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles that continues to the present. 

On June 15, 1915, Georgia Governor John Marshall Slaton had commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment.  This would result in the killing of any political ambitions by Slaton and it is also claimed that he and his family were run out of Georgia under the protection of the National Guard for his own safety.  They would relocate to San Francisco, California, where they would reside for several years prior to returning to Atlanta to resume a law practice with Frank’s main criminal defense attorney, Luther Rosser.

            I included a chapter about the Frank case in my latest trivia book in 2021, “Tri-State Reflections,” which is a small historical compilation of people, places and events in Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia.

            In an effort to include an equal number of articles from each of the three states I selected the Leo Frank case and erroneously assumed that the facts and issues in a 1913 case (108 years ago) had already been presented, argued and decided in both legal and non-legal circles.

            As a result, I gave an abbreviated and one-sided account of another “Trial of the Century” which unfortunately included many actions by the participants and media that are no longer accepted today under “due process of law” and other violations of our Constitution.

            For this reason, I am writing this follow-up article to attempt to present both sides of the Frank case.

            Prior to a 1986 pardon a failed 1982-1983 campaign highlighted by the revelation of an 83-year-old white male, Alonzo Mann, created the incentive to bring the Frank case out of the dusty pages of history to the public and news media.  Mann, through his attorney, John Jay Hooker, Jr. of Nashville, Tennessee claimed that on the date of Mary Phagan’s murder he was a 13-year-old office boy at the scene of the crime and that he had seen fellow employee and the key prosecution witness James Conley, carrying the victim’s body to the basement of the National Pencil Company near the first-floor stairway.  He also claimed that Conley threatened his life if he ever disclosed what he had seen on the date of the crimes.

            After 69 years of silence, Mann came forward with his story and guided by Hooker made his revelation which included the 1986 effort to convince the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to take corrective action on the verdict of Leo Frank.

            Although initially unsuccessful in 1983, Mann’s claimed story created a national publicity campaign and with the help of a trio of Nashville Tennessean reporters wrote a lengthy expose in its Sunday, March 7, 1982, edition and raised the question of whether Leo Frank had become a Jewish martyr or was still the rapist and murderer of the 13-year-old girl victim.

            With the help of the Anti-Defamation League and pro-Frank articles that had been previously featured in the New York Times (NYT) in 1913-1915 the Middle Tennessee newspaper, the NYT, amongst others, and Hooker gave the tragic story a new life of its own in history.

            This led to the 1986 pardon which did not exonerate Frank of the crime but allegedly was based on the unlawful abduction and the public hanging of Frank by a group of avengers under the name of “Knights of Mary Phagan.”

            The Nation of Islam book claims that this title was created by the NYT in a single reference, but which was also allegedly communicated to a national readership by other self-interested authors.

            Mann’s story was repeated in an affidavit, deposition led by the questioning and inadmissible answers of his attorney, John J. Hooker, and a publicity tour.

            Like today’s beneficiaries in the news media frenzy in any sensational historical event John Jay Hooker in the Islam book is also cited as revealing that the reporters of the Tennessean story were recipients of “a book and movie deal executed by the two main Tennessean’s journalists.”

            As expected, the Leo Frank – Mary Phagan event has been dramatized in many books, state, television and even a Public Broadcast System (PBS) documentary.           

            The history of any subject, good or bad, should be preserved as part of the freedom under the First Amendment that we enjoy as Americans.

            The decision whether a fair verdict and result was rendered in the Leo Frank case or whether it has been “politicized” is left to the readers who review any of my writings or included sources.

            Perhaps Paul Harvey would approve of this second article.  I sincerely hope that my effort to adhere to his earlier efforts to present both sides in a public forum have now been followed!

* * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at


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