By: Julia Levy
Cornell University paid tribute to Leo Frank, a class of 1906 alumnus whose life ended nine years after graduation in the hands of a lynch mob in Marietta, Ga. Named one of the "100 Most Notable Cornellians" in the 2003 book by Glenn Altschuler, Isaac Kramnick, and Larry Moore, Frank was honored at Cornell University's first public tribute to his life, marking the 100th anniversary of Leo Frank's days as a student at Cornell.
In 1913, Frank was accused of the murder of Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old worker at the National Pencil Factory in Atlanta, which he managed. During the investigation and trial, Frank maintained his innocence. While in prison, Frank was kidnapped from his cell and lynched in 1915.
Government Professor Theodore Lowi reflected upon the Frank case as shaping "much of what I experienced as a Jew growing up in the South." Raised in Alabama, Lowi spoke of the memories his father had shared with him of the Frank lynching, which occurred while he was a student at Georgia Tech.
Steve Oney, a journalist and author of the book "And the Dead Shall Rise," painted a picture of Leo Frank from his time as a student at Cornell to the trial that lead to his lynching. Referring to the case as the "trial of the century," Oney described the testimony at the trial as having "the worse sort of anti-Semitic slurs," and the "recycling of ancient allegations of sexual perversity against Jews." Evidence Oney discovered in his research implicated "leading citizens of the state of Georgia in planning Frank's lynching." William Manning Smith, the lawyer who had represented the lead witness in the case, Jim Conley, believed that "his client had not told the truth" and regretted representing him.
Ariella Saperstein of the Anti-Defamation League, the organization founded in response to Frank's lynching, reminded the audience that the "ADL has never forgotten Leo Frank [and] continues to work towards fulfilling its founding mission of combating anti-Semitism."
Senior Sara Jeruss said, "The Leo Frank case made it all the way up to the Supreme Court. I had not heard much about the case, growing up in the northeast, and I think it was important to educate the Cornell community about Leo Frank and remember his life."
The lecture coincided with a photography exhibit compiled from the Leo Frank collection at the Breman Jewish Heritage in Atlanta. Senior Julianna Eisner, who attended the opening gallery reception, said, "Just to hear people talk about the case, you have a connection to it, but when you really see it, the photographs of his life, you realize that he was a student just like us."
The event was coordinated by Cornell Hillel and was sponsored by several other organizations, including the College of Engineering, Cornell Law School, Jewish studies, American studies, the Student Assembly Finance Commission and the vice provost for academic programs.
Julia Levy is a student at Cornell University.