And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank

Overview

In 1913, 13-year-old Mary Phagan was found brutally murdered in the basement of the Atlanta pencil factory where she worked. The factory manager, a college-educated Jew named Leo Frank, was arrested, tried, and convicted in a trial that seized national headlines. When the governor commuted his death sentence, Frank was kidnapped and lynched by a group of prominent local citizens.

Steve Oney’s acclaimed account re-creates the entire story for the first time, from the police ...

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Overview

In 1913, 13-year-old Mary Phagan was found brutally murdered in the basement of the Atlanta pencil factory where she worked. The factory manager, a college-educated Jew named Leo Frank, was arrested, tried, and convicted in a trial that seized national headlines. When the governor commuted his death sentence, Frank was kidnapped and lynched by a group of prominent local citizens.

Steve Oney’s acclaimed account re-creates the entire story for the first time, from the police investigations to the gripping trial to the brutal lynching and its aftermath. Oney vividly renders Atlanta, a city enjoying newfound prosperity a half-century after the Civil War, but still rife with barely hidden prejudices and resentments. He introduces a Dickensian pageant of characters, including zealous policemen, intrepid reporters, Frank’s martyred wife, and a fiery populist who manipulated local anger at Northern newspapers that pushed for Frank’s exoneration. Combining investigative journalism and sweeping social history, this is the definitive account of one of American history’s most repellent and most fascinating moments.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Brilliant. . . . Ninety years later, the tale of murder and revenge in Georgia still has the power to fascinate. . . . Intense, suspenseful.” —The Washington Post Book World

“A major achievement . . . A fine work of history.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Compelling and relentlessly preoccupying. . . . Oney dapples his volume with vibrant, multihued street scenes and thumbnail portraits. You can almost hear the squealing brakes and clanging bells of the trolley cars outside the courtroom.” –The Houston Chronicle

“Invites comparison to Norman Mailer’s Executioner’s Song. The book packs a wallop at many levels, from the mythic Southern characters to the violent infrastructure of our cultural memory.” –The New York Times

“A grim and teeming ghost story. . . . A monumental folk parable of innocent suffering and a blind, brutal urge for retribution that passes finally into the simple, stark awe and pity of tragedy.” –The New York Review of Books

The New York Times
A former journalist, Steve Oney chooses his words carefully and selects shimmering excerpts from newspaper accounts of the trial that the passage of time has turned from coal to diamonds. His immense investigation is a work of sympathetic imagination that invites comparison to Norman Mailer's Executioner's Song. The book packs a wallop at many levels, from the mythic Southern characters to the violent infrastructure of our cultural memory. — Theodore Rosengarten
The Washington Post
Steve Oney's brilliant narrative shows why, 90 years later, the tale of murder and revenge in Georgia still has the capacity to fascinate, provoking the classical responses to tragedy: pity, awe and sorrow without end. — Shelby Coffey III
The New Yorker
The 1915 lynching of Leo Frank remains one of the most harrowing episodes in the history of the American South. A respected figure in Atlanta’s Jewish community and the superintendent of the National Pencil Company, Frank was hastily convicted of murdering thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan, one of his workers. Doubts about Frank’s guilt—the evidence was largely circumstantial—prompted a wave of national activism on his behalf: both the Times and William Randolph Hearst took up the cause. Frank’s death sentence was commuted, but the perception of Yankee-Jewish meddling stoked the wrath of Southern populists, and they vowed revenge. For Oney, the case has been a consuming obsession; some seventeen years of work went into this vast narrative. If he sometimes overplays the already considerable drama of the story, his careful demonstration that the lynching was no sudden spasm of mob violence but a well-planned operation by prominent Georgians—among them a leading judge and a former governor—is startling.
Publishers Weekly
The 1913 lynching of Leo Frank is one of the most sensational and resonant incidents in U.S. criminal and legal history, and a touchstone of American anti-Semitism. Frank, a Northern Jew, was the manager of an Atlanta, Ga., pencil factory where 13-year-old Mary Phagan worked and was brutally murdered. After he was charged with the crime and arrested, Frank's religion and ethnicity were an unarticulated but central theme of the dramatic, two-year-long trial that garnered worldwide attention. Frank was convicted of Phagan's murder and sentenced to death, but the governor commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. Georgians' anti-Semitism then reached a fever pitch, and Frank was dragged from his prison cell by a lynch mob and hanged near Phagan's hometown. Since then the Leo Frank case has become an emblem of American intolerance, inspiring a 1937 Hollywood movie, They Won't Forget, and a 1998 Broadway musical, Parade. Surprisingly, though, the Frank case has generated very few works of political or cultural analysis, an exception being Leonard Dinnerstein's The Leo Frank Case, originally published in 1968 and reissued in a slightly revised edition in 1986. Oney's is the best book on the subject to date. Oney, who spent years as a reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has written not only the definitive account of the murder, trial and lynching but also a stirring, eminently readable, and thrilling narrative. Oney has read extensively through court transcripts, contemporary newspaper articles, judicial and legal documents, and personal papers, uncovering new and unsettling material, most notably, that the men who planned Frank's lynching-they referred to themselves as the Knights of Mary Phagan-were, or became, very important state politicians. The historical canvas here is broad, and Frank's story becomes a tapestry of American ethnicity, fear, hate and power. Oney carefully maps the history of the Jewish community in the South; the role that New York newspapers played in publicizing the trial and attacking anti-Semitism; and the complex role that racism and the interactions between black and white Georgians played in Frank's conviction. This complex turmoil comes together when, out of the blue, Oney details a suspenseful, beautifully detailed plot twist involving William Smith, the lawyer for the only other suspect, a black man named Jim Conley. Oney has a reporter's eye for detail and a novelist's sense of storytelling. While the narrative-fashioned as a crime story-is vividly detailed and deeply compelling, we never lose a sense of Oney's exacting accuracy and serious historical intent. This is a vital addition to the literature of race, Jewish studies and Southern history. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Oney, a former writer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, delivers an exceptionally well-researched and -written first book. In 1913, the body of 13-year-old Mary Phagan was found at Atlanta's National Pencil Factory. Her supervisor, a Cornell-educated Jew named Leo Frank, was arrested for murder, then convicted and sentenced to hang based on circumstantial evidence and a questionable witness. For the next two years, Frank's attorneys unsuccessfully sought redress, including two appeals to the Supreme Court. Shortly before leaving office, Gov. John M. Slaton commuted the sentence to life in prison, but two months later, vigilantes kidnapped Frank and hanged him outside Marietta, GA. None of the lynch mob was brought to trial, and their identities long remained secret. Oney both reveals who the killers were and weaves together a complex story of conflicting issues involving race, regionalism, and religion. The Frank lynching remains a topic of ongoing interest for both scholars and lay writers. Unlike Jeffrey Melnick's recent Black-Jewish Relations on Trial, Oney focuses more on the case itself and less on the immortalization of the lynching. Researching the book took 17 painstaking years in a city still reticent to discuss the episode, but Oney even found surviving witnesses who had seen Frank's body. This riveting work is well worth the effort and is highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/03.]-Daniel Liestman, Florida Gulf Coast Univ. Lib. Svcs., Fort Myers Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-At first glance, this account of the murder of a factory worker and the sensational trial of the man accused of the crime sounds suspiciously like many of the trials of recent history. What sets this "true crime" narrative apart is that the murder took place in 1913, the victim was 13 years old, and the Jewish man convicted was lynched after his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Anti-Semitism and racism clouded what should have been a search for truth. No modern-day trial could be more confusing than Leo Frank's as jurors were presented with often circumstantial evidence and heard contradictory testimony. Oney has written a thorough and riveting account of Mary Phagan's murder and the subsequent events. Black-and-white photos are included. There is much to discuss and to consider after reading this book.-Peggy Bercher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A particularly notorious, long-overlooked ethnic incident in southern history comes in for careful reconsideration, and many are found wanting in the bargain. On the morning of April 26, 1913, writes former Atlanta Journal-Constitution staffer Oney, a 13-year-old "hillbilly" girl named Mary Phagan, a worker at Atlanta’s National Pencil Factory, disappeared. She was discovered in the back of the factory’s basement, so blackened with soot that her ethnic identity could not be ascertained until a detective lifted her skirt—whereupon it was discovered that Mary had been the victim of a particularly vicious rape—"outraged," in the parlance of the day. Penciled notes near the girl’s body implicated "a long tall negro black" named Newt Lee, a watchman who had led police to it; a chronicler of events would go on to describe Lee as a "black, ignorant, corn-field, pot likker-fed darky." But, for all the racial virulence of the era and the convenience of a suspect who wouldn’t much be missed, suspicion quickly fell on a factory manager, a Jewish northerner named Leo Frank. Effectively tried and convicted in the city’s leading newspaper—owned by William Randolph Hearst, who took a particular interest in the case—Frank protested his innocence even as the Phagan murder whipped up a storm of hitherto hidden anti-Semitism and brought national attention to the trial. And when the case dragged on in court a little too long for the liking of the citizenry, Frank was kidnapped and lynched (strangely, with a judge in attendance). To these already ugly facts Oney adds any number of surprising twists that, coupled with his careful, almost minute-by-minute reconstruction of the matter, yieldsa very big but economical narrative. One of those twists reveals the complicity of the state’s leading citizens—including a future governor—in Frank’s murder; another shows how protests by northerners over Frank’s railroading inspired Georgia racists to revive the Ku Klux Klan, disbanded in 1869 but obviously ripe for revival. A superb work of true crime—and an altogether remarkable exercise in what might be called judicial archaeology.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679764236
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/12/2004
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Pages: 784
  • Sales rank: 643,494
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.97 (h) x 1.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Steve Oney was educated at the University of Georgia and at Harvard, where he was a Nieman Fellow. He worked for many years as a staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Magazine. He has also contributed articles to many national publications, including Esquire, Playboy, Premiere, GQ and the New York Times Magazine. Oney lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Madeline Stuart. This is his first book.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
April 26, 1913

That morning, thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan, after eating a breakfast of cabbage and wheat biscuits, devoted herself to getting dressed. First, she donned stockings and garters, then a store-bought violet dress and gunmetal-gray pumps. Two bows in her auburn hair and a blue straw hat adorned with dried red flowers atop her head completed the outfit. Mary wanted to look nice, for Saturday, April 26, 1913, marked a special occasion-Confederate Memorial Day. Around 11:45, with a silvery mesh purse and an umbrella (the skies were misting rain) in her hands, she boarded the English Avenue trolley headed to downtown Atlanta, where the annual parade would soon begin.

Well turned out or not, Mary would have been one of the prettiest girls in any crowd. Eyes blue as cornflowers, cheeks high-boned and rosy, smile beguiling as honeysuckle, figure busty (later, everyone acknowledged that "she was exceedingly well-developed for her age"), she had undoubtedly already tortured many a boy. There was simply something about her-a tilt to the chin, a dare in the gaze-that projected those flirtatious wiles that Southern girls often employ to devastating effect.

As her correspondence with her country cousin and friend Myrtle Barmore illustrates, Mary could be a handful. On December 30, 1912, she wrote:

Well, Myrt I don't know what to think of you for not coming [to lunch on Christmas day]. I think that was a poor excuse. When I come up there I'll give you what you need. Me and Ollie [her sister] & Mama & Charles

& Joshua [her brothers] went out at Uncle Jack Thurs. and taken dinner. "But gee" how we did eat. Had fresh "hog." I don't know when I can get

to come. Mama is getting where she will not let me go anywhere. "But

gee" I am going to save my money and go West. Gee I will have some time . . . When I come there, we will have some time "kid."

Yet despite her beauty and airy hopes (many inspired by the movies, which she attended frequently and followed in such magazines as Photo Lore), Mary Phagan was unlikely to escape drab and impoverished environs. She lived in Atlanta's Bellwood section, no one's vision of a beautiful wood. Northwest of downtown, the neighborhood was bordered on one side by the Exposition Cotton Mill and its adjacent factory-owned village, Happy Hollow, on another by the clanging sheds of the Atlantic Steel Mill and on a third by an expanse of crookedly carpentered "nigger shacks." In homage to its bare-knuckled ward politics, the community was called "the bloody fifth."

Like most Bellwood people, Mary was a hillbilly. Her father, a farmer named William Joshua Phagan, had died of the measles in 1899 a few months before her birth in Alabama. Around 1900, Mary's widowed mother, Fannie, carried the children back to the family's ancestral home near Marietta in Cobb County, twenty miles northwest of Atlanta.

At one time, Phagan had been a fine name around Marietta. During the 1890s, the patriarch-William Jackson-had stood in the traces behind his own mules on his own land snug against the Blue Ridge mountains that rim Cobb County. But the old man had accompanied his son to Alabama, and after the boy's death, there he remained. When Fannie Phagan and her brood returned to Georgia, they moved in with her people, the Bentons, in the Sardis section, a rural area several miles outside Marietta.

In 1907, the family relocated again-this time to the dingy mill town of Eagan, a tiny place encysted in the southern Atlanta suburb of East Point. There, the widow Phagan opened a boardinghouse. The clan didn't move to Georgia's capital until 1912, when Fannie remarried. Her new husband, John W. Coleman, toiled intermittently at the Exposition mill but was presently employed by the municipal sanitation department.

That, down deep, Mary Phagan cleaved tight to her struggling family can be seen in the lines of a poem entitled "My Pa," which she'd recently copied from Successful Farmer magazine and presented to her stepfather:

My pa ain't no millyunaire, but, Gee! He's offul smart!

He ain't no carpenter, but he can fix a feller's cart . . .

My pa ain't president becoz, he says, he never run,

But he could do as well as any president has done . . .

My pa ain't rich, but that's becoz he never tried to be;

He ain't no 'lectrician, but one day he fixed the

telephone for me . . .

My pa knows everything, I guess, an' you bet I don't care

'Coz he ain't president or rich as any millyunaire!

Whenever things go wrong, my pa can make 'em right, you see;

An' if he ain't rich or president, my pa's good enough fer me!

Like many girls her age, Mary had quit school to help out at home. In 1909, at the age of ten, she'd hired on part-time at a textile mill. In 1911, she'd taken a steady job at a paper manufacturer. In 1912, she'd moved to her current position at the National Pencil Factory, where she was paid ten cents an hour to run an apparatus called a knurling machine that inserted rubber erasers into the metal tips of nearly finished pencils.

Tough as times had been for the Phagans, the family was no worse off than most Atlantans in the early twentieth century. During these years, refugees from Georgia's hardscrabble tenant farms poured into the city, driven from the flatlands by the fluctuating price of cotton, from Appalachia by a rocky soil unkind to seed and plow. Figures compiled by the United States Census Bureau show that between 1900 and 1910 Atlanta nearly doubled in size. Many of the new arrivals toiled in the mills, chief among them the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill, whose factory-owned village, Cabbagetown, spread out in row after identical clapboard row east of downtown. For these thousands of souls, the average workweek lasted 66 hours, and pay fell 37 percent below that earned by northern workers. In a city whose cost of living was exceeded among other American cities only by Boston's, a wage of ten or fifteen cents an hour did not go far. In 1911, Atlanta's Journal of Labor reported four thousand requests for assistance; in 1912, five thousand.

There were other problems as well. Over half of Atlanta's school children-both Negro and white-suffered from anemia, enlarged glands, heart disease or malnutrition. Death rates were abnormally high for citizens of all ages. (In 1905, 2,414 of every 100,000 Atlantans died; the national average was 1,637.) And there wasn't much indication that things would get better soon. More than 50,000 Atlantans lived with no plumbing. To service its 10,800 "earth closets," as the newspapers called them, the city provided just fifteen horse-drawn honey wagons. Moreover, the capital's physicians possessed no means of isolating and then combating infections, as Georgia was among only a handful of states yet to set up a department of vital statistics.

Nonetheless, Atlanta's crackers-as country folk come to town were known generally-and its lintheads-as millworkers were known specifically-did not spend their time in despair. On April 1, they'd staged

their own musicale-the first annual Atlanta Fiddler's Convention-at the Municipal Auditorium. The master of ceremonies was Colonel Max Poole, a one-armed Confederate veteran from Oxford, Georgia, who played by cradling a bow under his stub, while the featured performer was Fiddlin' John Carson, a Cabbagetown resident and future RCA recording star who toted his 1714 Stradivarius reproduction in a feed sack. The Scotch-Irish reels the fiddlers favored-"Trail of the Lonesome Pine," "Annie Laurie," "Hop Light, Ladies"-could sure enough move a crowd. By closing night of the three-day festival, Momma and 'em were clogging in the aisles.

The spirit of Atlanta's crackers was independent to the point of contrariness, and a little bit hellish. No matter how bad things got, folks weren't likely to complain unless, of course, their dignity was threatened, which was exactly what the city's industrialists, by relying increasingly on child laborers, were now doing.

Rarely, if ever, had Atlantans been as conscious of the difficult lives to which so many of their children had been reduced as on April 26, 1913. thinks georgia treats little toilers worst, declared the headline in the afternoon's Atlanta Georgian over an article pointing out that "Georgia is the only state that allows children ten years old to labor eleven hours a day in the mills and factories, and is worse in that respect than North Carolina, where the age limit is twelve years." Even more damning, the piece detailed how just a few months earlier a group of Georgia factory owners had banded together to kill a bill in the state senate that would have raised the legal working age to fourteen.

The Georgian's story was but the latest in a series of attacks by the newspaper on exploitative factory owners. William Randolph Hearst, its publisher since he purchased the sheet a year before, had pursued the issue relentlessly. His campaign, while intended to win readers, was not entirely disingenuous. The press baron's wife, Millicent, was obsessed with the "little girl in the mill town [who] is not receiving a living wage." And his chief

correspondent and ponderous moral conscience, Arthur Brisbane, was a fanatic on the subject. Earlier in the spring, Brisbane had filed a long, probably apocryphal piece about a Georgia mill owner so depraved that he refused to release his employees during daylight to attend the burial of one of their tiny coworkers. Entitled "A Funeral by Lamplight," the story was set in "a squalid room at midnight," where "a coffin rests on trestles" and children in "all stages of emaciation" moaned and sobbed.

Hearst was not alone in calling attention to the plight of Atlanta's underage workforce. Elsewhere in the city on this spring Saturday, others were speaking out just as forcefully. During a Confederate Memorial Day sermon delivered at the downtown Oakland Cemetery, Dr. Charles Lee, a first cousin of General Robert E. Lee, stood on a platform at the base of the Sleeping Lion, the Confederacy's Tomb of the Unknown, and told a rain-soaked audience of a thousand:

Our principles were not defeated when we surrendered at Appomattox. The wars are not over. There are other enemies, bitter ones, that must be fought-emigration, labor, the double standard of child labor and white slavery. Our fathers would face these and defeat them had they the youth and vitality that was once theirs, and it behooves us to do it for their sake, if nothing else.

Meantime across town at the Wesley Chapel, the Southern Sociological Conference was convening. Among the convocation's goals was the formulation of tactics to put an end to "the awful curse" of child labor. Attended by some one thousand educators, pastors and social workers (many of them Negro), the affair was chaired by Alexander J. McKelway, regional secretary of the National Child Labor Committee, an organization best known as the sponsor of Lewis Hine the photographer, whose portraits of begrimed little coal miners and millworkers had alerted America to the Dickensian dilemma of its urchin wage earners.

The three-day Atlanta assembly was not devoted solely to the topic of child labor. Also on the agenda were such subjects as "Race Problems" and "Organized Charities." In fact, the convention was something of a referendum on the myriad problems affecting the city's poor. Yet in the end, the fiercest stir was created by the remarks of Owen R. Lovejoy, general secretary of the National Child Labor Committee, who promised the multitude: " 'Thy Kingdom come' means the coming of the day when child labor will be done away with, when every little tot shall have its quota of sunlight and happiness."

How this vision could be realized was a subject of great debate. Ideas involving everything from labor unions to legislation, and ranging from the utopian to the revolutionary, vied for attention. At the radical end of the spectrum could be heard alarming notions inspired by the fact that many of Atlanta's factories, among them the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill, were Jewish-owned. At first such talk was discouraged. In fact, when Dr. Edwin M. Poteat, the president of the Baptist-endowed Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, began to denounce Jews for their purported crimes against workers, Alexander McKelway cut him off in mid-diatribe. But Poteat literally walked his text over to the Baptist Tabernacle. There, after telling a packed house that "in America today, the immediate conflict is between the bosses and the people," he lit into the faith that he believed had produced a disproportionate share of the oppressors. "The Jewish race lost its divine commission when it rejected Jesus as the Saviour," he thundered. "Up to that time, it had been the leader in religion. Every great idea contributed to the thought of the world came from the Jews. In fact, the Jews were chosen of God, but they rejected the stone that is the keystone of the arch." Then, for good measure, Poteat flayed the Catholics: "The Catholic church has no place in America. The priest is 2,000 years out of date. The nation cannot and will not submit to the encroachments of the despot, even in religion."

Considering the many outcries on the topic of child labor, one Georgian was conspicuously silent on April 26, 1913. In his heyday, Thomas E. Watson had been the state's most relentless advocate for the workingman, leading a quarter-century-long campaign against the forces of rapacious capitalism. To "The Sage of McDuffie County," factories were the "soulless" locus of modern evil, dynamos studded by "a hundred dull red eyes, indicative of the flames within which were consuming the men, women, and children, the atrocious sacrifice to an insatiable god!"

Rail-thin, redheaded and possessed of galvanizing rhetorical skill, Watson was equal parts stem-winding stump speaker, defense lawyer, poet, popular historian, sentimental defender of the Old South and seer of an unlikely New South. Early on, he had divined that the strangest but truest allies in the region were poor white farmers and Negroes, and with these groups-each victimized by Dixie's elites-as his constituency, he had ascended to the United States Congress.

But since the mid-1890s, when leaders of a rival political faction stuffed the ballot box to deny him reelection to the House of Representatives from Georgia's predominantly rural tenth district, Watson had been in decline. His troubles had increased in 1896 after the Populist Party's national ticket-William Jennings Bryan for president, Watson for vice president-went down to defeat. By the early 1900s, the self-proclaimed friend of "Old Man Peepul" had abandoned his black supporters and become, after his own overwrought fashion, a muckraker, pillorying "the Standard Oil crowd" and various sleek plutocrats and plunderers in the pages of Tom Watson's Magazine. Eventually, these targets proved unsatisfying, and in the teens, the agrarian rebel focused his guns on the insidious foreigner behind it all. Week after week in a new publication, the Jeffersonian, he explored innovative ways to excoriate that "fat old dago" who cohabited with "voluptuous women"-the Pope.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

1. April 26, 1913 3
2. Look Out, White Folks 18
3. Extra, Extra 35
4. Onward, Christian Soldiers 46
5. A Good Name, A Bad Reputation 71
6. Skulduggery 91
7. A Clean Nigger 118
8. A Tramp Alumnus 145
9. Skirmishes 162
10. Prosecution 190
11. Defense 261
12. Verdict 306
13. Appeals in and out of Court 345
14. Brightness Visible 371
15. Darkness Falls 397
16. A Change of Heart 423
17. Cause Celebre 444
18. Commutation 469
19. Marietta 513
20. Milledgeville 529
21. The Lynching of Leo Frank 561
22. Burial 573
23. Recessional 596
24. The Revenant 630
Epilogue 644
Notes 651
Bibliography 709
Acknowledgments 713
Index 717
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First Chapter

Chapter 1
April 26, 1913

That morning, thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan, after eating a breakfast of cabbage and wheat biscuits, devoted herself to getting dressed. First, she donned stockings and garters, then a store-bought violet dress and gunmetal-gray pumps. Two bows in her auburn hair and a blue straw hat adorned with dried red flowers atop her head completed the outfit. Mary wanted to look nice, for Saturday, April 26, 1913, marked a special occasion-Confederate Memorial Day. Around 11:45, with a silvery mesh purse and an umbrella (the skies were misting rain) in her hands, she boarded the English Avenue trolley headed to downtown Atlanta, where the annual parade would soon begin.

Well turned out or not, Mary would have been one of the prettiest girls in any crowd. Eyes blue as cornflowers, cheeks high-boned and rosy, smile beguiling as honeysuckle, figure busty (later, everyone acknowledged that "she was exceedingly well-developed for her age"), she had undoubtedly already tortured many a boy. There was simply something about her-a tilt to the chin, a dare in the gaze-that projected those flirtatious wiles that Southern girls often employ to devastating effect.

As her correspondence with her country cousin and friend Myrtle Barmore illustrates, Mary could be a handful. On December 30, 1912, she wrote:

Well, Myrt I don't know what to think of you for not coming [to lunch on Christmas day]. I think that was a poor excuse. When I come up there I'll give you what you need. Me and Ollie [her sister] & Mama & Charles

& Joshua [her brothers] went out at Uncle Jack Thurs. and taken dinner. "But gee" how we did eat. Had fresh "hog." Idon't know when I can get

to come. Mama is getting where she will not let me go anywhere. "But

gee" I am going to save my money and go West. Gee I will have some time . . . When I come there, we will have some time "kid."

Yet despite her beauty and airy hopes (many inspired by the movies, which she attended frequently and followed in such magazines as Photo Lore), Mary Phagan was unlikely to escape drab and impoverished environs. She lived in Atlanta's Bellwood section, no one's vision of a beautiful wood. Northwest of downtown, the neighborhood was bordered on one side by the Exposition Cotton Mill and its adjacent factory-owned village, Happy Hollow, on another by the clanging sheds of the Atlantic Steel Mill and on a third by an expanse of crookedly carpentered "nigger shacks." In homage to its bare-knuckled ward politics, the community was called "the bloody fifth."

Like most Bellwood people, Mary was a hillbilly. Her father, a farmer named William Joshua Phagan, had died of the measles in 1899 a few months before her birth in Alabama. Around 1900, Mary's widowed mother, Fannie, carried the children back to the family's ancestral home near Marietta in Cobb County, twenty miles northwest of Atlanta.

At one time, Phagan had been a fine name around Marietta. During the 1890s, the patriarch-William Jackson-had stood in the traces behind his own mules on his own land snug against the Blue Ridge mountains that rim Cobb County. But the old man had accompanied his son to Alabama, and after the boy's death, there he remained. When Fannie Phagan and her brood returned to Georgia, they moved in with her people, the Bentons, in the Sardis section, a rural area several miles outside Marietta.

In 1907, the family relocated again-this time to the dingy mill town of Eagan, a tiny place encysted in the southern Atlanta suburb of East Point. There, the widow Phagan opened a boardinghouse. The clan didn't move to Georgia's capital until 1912, when Fannie remarried. Her new husband, John W. Coleman, toiled intermittently at the Exposition mill but was presently employed by the municipal sanitation department.

That, down deep, Mary Phagan cleaved tight to her struggling family can be seen in the lines of a poem entitled "My Pa," which she'd recently copied from Successful Farmer magazine and presented to her stepfather:

My pa ain't no millyunaire, but, Gee! He's offul smart!

He ain't no carpenter, but he can fix a feller's cart . . .

My pa ain't president becoz, he says, he never run,

But he could do as well as any president has done . . .

My pa ain't rich, but that's becoz he never tried to be;

He ain't no 'lectrician, but one day he fixed the

telephone for me . . .

My pa knows everything, I guess, an' you bet I don't care

'Coz he ain't president or rich as any millyunaire!

Whenever things go wrong, my pa can make 'em right, you see;

An' if he ain't rich or president, my pa's good enough fer me!

Like many girls her age, Mary had quit school to help out at home. In 1909, at the age of ten, she'd hired on part-time at a textile mill. In 1911, she'd taken a steady job at a paper manufacturer. In 1912, she'd moved to her current position at the National Pencil Factory, where she was paid ten cents an hour to run an apparatus called a knurling machine that inserted rubber erasers into the metal tips of nearly finished pencils.

Tough as times had been for the Phagans, the family was no worse off than most Atlantans in the early twentieth century. During these years, refugees from Georgia's hardscrabble tenant farms poured into the city, driven from the flatlands by the fluctuating price of cotton, from Appalachia by a rocky soil unkind to seed and plow. Figures compiled by the United States Census Bureau show that between 1900 and 1910 Atlanta nearly doubled in size. Many of the new arrivals toiled in the mills, chief among them the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill, whose factory-owned village, Cabbagetown, spread out in row after identical clapboard row east of downtown. For these thousands of souls, the average workweek lasted 66 hours, and pay fell 37 percent below that earned by northern workers. In a city whose cost of living was exceeded among other American cities only by Boston's, a wage of ten or fifteen cents an hour did not go far. In 1911, Atlanta's Journal of Labor reported four thousand requests for assistance; in 1912, five thousand.

There were other problems as well. Over half of Atlanta's school children-both Negro and white-suffered from anemia, enlarged glands, heart disease or malnutrition. Death rates were abnormally high for citizens of all ages. (In 1905, 2,414 of every 100,000 Atlantans died; the national average was 1,637.) And there wasn't much indication that things would get better soon. More than 50,000 Atlantans lived with no plumbing. To service its 10,800 "earth closets," as the newspapers called them, the city provided just fifteen horse-drawn honey wagons. Moreover, the capital's physicians possessed no means of isolating and then combating infections, as Georgia was among only a handful of states yet to set up a department of vital statistics.

Nonetheless, Atlanta's crackers-as country folk come to town were known generally-and its lintheads-as millworkers were known specifically-did not spend their time in despair. On April 1, they'd staged

their own musicale-the first annual Atlanta Fiddler's Convention-at the Municipal Auditorium. The master of ceremonies was Colonel Max Poole, a one-armed Confederate veteran from Oxford, Georgia, who played by cradling a bow under his stub, while the featured performer was Fiddlin' John Carson, a Cabbagetown resident and future RCA recording star who toted his 1714 Stradivarius reproduction in a feed sack. The Scotch-Irish reels the fiddlers favored-"Trail of the Lonesome Pine," "Annie Laurie," "Hop Light, Ladies"-could sure enough move a crowd. By closing night of the three-day festival, Momma and 'em were clogging in the aisles.

The spirit of Atlanta's crackers was independent to the point of contrariness, and a little bit hellish. No matter how bad things got, folks weren't likely to complain unless, of course, their dignity was threatened, which was exactly what the city's industrialists, by relying increasingly on child laborers, were now doing.

Rarely, if ever, had Atlantans been as conscious of the difficult lives to which so many of their children had been reduced as on April 26, 1913. thinks georgia treats little toilers worst, declared the headline in the afternoon's Atlanta Georgian over an article pointing out that "Georgia is the only state that allows children ten years old to labor eleven hours a day in the mills and factories, and is worse in that respect than North Carolina, where the age limit is twelve years." Even more damning, the piece detailed how just a few months earlier a group of Georgia factory owners had banded together to kill a bill in the state senate that would have raised the legal working age to fourteen.

The Georgian's story was but the latest in a series of attacks by the newspaper on exploitative factory owners. William Randolph Hearst, its publisher since he purchased the sheet a year before, had pursued the issue relentlessly. His campaign, while intended to win readers, was not entirely disingenuous. The press baron's wife, Millicent, was obsessed with the "little girl in the mill town [who] is not receiving a living wage." And his chief

correspondent and ponderous moral conscience, Arthur Brisbane, was a fanatic on the subject. Earlier in the spring, Brisbane had filed a long, probably apocryphal piece about a Georgia mill owner so depraved that he refused to release his employees during daylight to attend the burial of one of their tiny coworkers. Entitled "A Funeral by Lamplight," the story was set in "a squalid room at midnight," where "a coffin rests on trestles" and children in "all stages of emaciation" moaned and sobbed.

Hearst was not alone in calling attention to the plight of Atlanta's underage workforce. Elsewhere in the city on this spring Saturday, others were speaking out just as forcefully. During a Confederate Memorial Day sermon delivered at the downtown Oakland Cemetery, Dr. Charles Lee, a first cousin of General Robert E. Lee, stood on a platform at the base of the Sleeping Lion, the Confederacy's Tomb of the Unknown, and told a rain-soaked audience of a thousand:

Our principles were not defeated when we surrendered at Appomattox. The wars are not over. There are other enemies, bitter ones, that must be fought-emigration, labor, the double standard of child labor and white slavery. Our fathers would face these and defeat them had they the youth and vitality that was once theirs, and it behooves us to do it for their sake, if nothing else.

Meantime across town at the Wesley Chapel, the Southern Sociological Conference was convening. Among the convocation's goals was the formulation of tactics to put an end to "the awful curse" of child labor. Attended by some one thousand educators, pastors and social workers (many of them Negro), the affair was chaired by Alexander J. McKelway, regional secretary of the National Child Labor Committee, an organization best known as the sponsor of Lewis Hine the photographer, whose portraits of begrimed little coal miners and millworkers had alerted America to the Dickensian dilemma of its urchin wage earners.

The three-day Atlanta assembly was not devoted solely to the topic of child labor. Also on the agenda were such subjects as "Race Problems" and "Organized Charities." In fact, the convention was something of a referendum on the myriad problems affecting the city's poor. Yet in the end, the fiercest stir was created by the remarks of Owen R. Lovejoy, general secretary of the National Child Labor Committee, who promised the multitude: " 'Thy Kingdom come' means the coming of the day when child labor will be done away with, when every little tot shall have its quota of sunlight and happiness."

How this vision could be realized was a subject of great debate. Ideas involving everything from labor unions to legislation, and ranging from the utopian to the revolutionary, vied for attention. At the radical end of the spectrum could be heard alarming notions inspired by the fact that many of Atlanta's factories, among them the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill, were Jewish-owned. At first such talk was discouraged. In fact, when Dr. Edwin M. Poteat, the president of the Baptist-endowed Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, began to denounce Jews for their purported crimes against workers, Alexander McKelway cut him off in mid-diatribe. But Poteat literally walked his text over to the Baptist Tabernacle. There, after telling a packed house that "in America today, the immediate conflict is between the bosses and the people," he lit into the faith that he believed had produced a disproportionate share of the oppressors. "The Jewish race lost its divine commission when it rejected Jesus as the Saviour," he thundered. "Up to that time, it had been the leader in religion. Every great idea contributed to the thought of the world came from the Jews. In fact, the Jews were chosen of God, but they rejected the stone that is the keystone of the arch." Then, for good measure, Poteat flayed the Catholics: "The Catholic church has no place in America. The priest is 2,000 years out of date. The nation cannot and will not submit to the encroachments of the despot, even in religion."

Considering the many outcries on the topic of child labor, one Georgian was conspicuously silent on April 26, 1913. In his heyday, Thomas E. Watson had been the state's most relentless advocate for the workingman, leading a quarter-century-long campaign against the forces of rapacious capitalism. To "The Sage of McDuffie County," factories were the "soulless" locus of modern evil, dynamos studded by "a hundred dull red eyes, indicative of the flames within which were consuming the men, women, and children, the atrocious sacrifice to an insatiable god!"

Rail-thin, redheaded and possessed of galvanizing rhetorical skill, Watson was equal parts stem-winding stump speaker, defense lawyer, poet, popular historian, sentimental defender of the Old South and seer of an unlikely New South. Early on, he had divined that the strangest but truest allies in the region were poor white farmers and Negroes, and with these groups-each victimized by Dixie's elites-as his constituency, he had ascended to the United States Congress.

But since the mid-1890s, when leaders of a rival political faction stuffed the ballot box to deny him reelection to the House of Representatives from Georgia's predominantly rural tenth district, Watson had been in decline. His troubles had increased in 1896 after the Populist Party's national ticket-William Jennings Bryan for president, Watson for vice president-went down to defeat. By the early 1900s, the self-proclaimed friend of "Old Man Peepul" had abandoned his black supporters and become, after his own overwrought fashion, a muckraker, pillorying "the Standard Oil crowd" and various sleek plutocrats and plunderers in the pages of Tom Watson's Magazine. Eventually, these targets proved unsatisfying, and in the teens, the agrarian rebel focused his guns on the insidious foreigner behind it all. Week after week in a new publication, the Jeffersonian, he explored innovative ways to excoriate that "fat old dago" who cohabited with "voluptuous women"-the Pope.

Copyright© 2003 by Steve Oney
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2004

    landmark study of a southern tragedy

    Detailed and analytical study of two terrible crimes in early 20th century Georgia.Hatred and ignorance convicted an innocent man accused of a horrific crime that had little if anything to do with him.Southern poverty and the hopeless of early Georgia life in the 1910's, an area still suffering from the Civil War,are responsible for some the events. The South has progressed since this time. Members of old Southern families should read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2004

    Immense in scope & impressive in detail

    This book covers the social, political, economic, racial and religious environments in Atlanta at the time of the Leo Frank case, and provides mesmerizing detail of all these aspects as they relate to this appalling and heartbreaking case. I found myself very much disturbed by these events of the early 20th century. The author's careful devotion to this work is very obvious, and he has crafted a very readable, yet historically important, book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2003

    Reviews reveal inconsistency

    The publisher writes of the campaign by William Randolph Hearst and the NY Times to exonerate Frank. The structure of the sentence in which they state that makes it seem as if Hearst was part of the effort to clear Frank. However, Kirkus' review mentions that Hearst owned the paper that tried and convicted Frank [in the media]. Thus, Hearst appears to have worked, through his paper, to convict, not exonerate, Frank. I believe the publisher is at fault for poor sentence structure but, would you please ask them to clarify this point? (I believe Hearst did own the Atlanta Journal - or was it the Constitution?)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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