Tragedy in the New South: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank

Tragedy in the New South: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank


Cover from The Frank Case: Inside Story of Georgia's Greatest Murder Mystery. Complete History of the Sensational Crime and Trial, Portraits of Principal. 1913. Courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library via Digital Library of Georgia. 

In This Exhibition

On April 26, 1913, Confederate Memorial Day, thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan was murdered at the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, Georgia. Leo Frank, the Jewish, New York-raised superintendent of the National Pencil Company, was charged with the crime.

At the same time, Atlanta’s economy was transforming from rural and agrarian to urban and industrial. Resources for investing in new industry came from Northern states, as did most industrial leaders, like Leo Frank. Many of the workers in these new industrial facilities were children, like Mary Phagan.

Over the next two years, Leo Frank’s legal case became a national story with a highly publicized, controversial trial and lengthy appeal process that profoundly affected Jewish communities in Georgia and the South, and impacted the careers of lawyers, politicians, and publishers.

By the early twentieth century, Jewish communities had become well-established in most major Southern cities, continuing a path of migration that began during colonial times. The Leo Frank case and its aftermath revealed lingering regional hostilities from the Civil War and Reconstruction, intensified existing racial and cultural inequalities (particularly anti-Semitism), embodied socioeconomic problems (such as child labor), and exposed the brutality of lynching in the South.

Credit: The exhibition was created by the Digital Library of Georgia ( Exhibition Organizers: Charles Pou, Mandy Mastrovita, and Greer Martin.