The 100th anniversary of the lynching of Leo Frank provided an opportunity to reflect on how far Georgia has come, how far the state and the nation have to go, how much civil rights leader Julian Bond will be missed, and how much new or improved hate-crimes legislation is needed across the nation.
The new national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, made one of his first public appearances at the Frank commemoration held by the ADL’s Buckhead-based Southeast Region at the Georgian Club in southeastern Cobb County on Monday, Aug. 17.
Greenblatt, whose organization first came to prominence in response to Frank’s 1913 conviction in the murder of Mary Phagan and his 1915 lynching, used the ceremony to launch the ADL’s 50 States Against Hate initiative.
The project aims to pass hate-crimes laws in the five states that lack them — Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, Indiana and Wyoming — and to strengthen the other 45 laws to ensure they include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability. Georgia partners in the initiative include the American Jewish Committee, the National Council of Jewish Women, the NAACP and SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity.
Both Greenblatt’s speech to a room packed with community leaders and the ADL’s pamphlet on the initiative cited the nine killings at a Charleston church June 17. The confessed white-supremacist killer, Dylann Roof, won’t be charged with a hate crime because South Carolina doesn’t have such a law, although he could face the death penalty.
“I believe that without this law, without this charge, the state prosecution is simply incomplete. We cannot properly recognize the clear bias motivation behind these murders,” Greenblatt said. “We owe it the victims, the Charleston Nine, to be able to call this crime what it was and to be able to pursue justice on those specific grounds.”
His audience included Roy Barnes, who was governor when Georgia passed a hate-crimes law in 2000 that was later overturned, and Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, who would have to defend a Georgia hate-crimes law against any court challenges.
Barnes and Olens were among the speakers before Greenblatt. Barnes, whose wife is a descendant of one of the Frank lynchers, and fellow lawyer Dale Schwartz, who was the ADL’s lead counsel in the push for a Frank pardon in the mid-1980s, shared a rollicking panel moderated by WSB-TV personality Jocelyn Dorsey.
Barnes and Schwartz both offered a look behind the scenes at the ultimately successful fight to win a pardon for Frank in 1986, and both backed the pursuit of exoneration for Frank through a route that doesn’t again involve the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Olens focused on how dramatically Cobb County has changed in a century to feature a more diverse judiciary and perhaps a friendlier home for Jews than some of the nearby counties.
But Greenblatt turned to the most prominent member of the audience and the man who followed him on the program, Congressman John Lewis, when he focused on the sad news from the weekend: the unexpected death of former NAACP leader and Georgia legislator Julian Bond at the age of 75.
Greenblatt said it was impossible not to take a moment to remember Bond because “all of us are part of his legacy.”
Lewis said the ADL event late Monday morning was the first time he could move out of his house since hearing the news about Bond.
“We lost a fighter for justice,” Lewis said. He added that such fighters are still needed in an era when hatred and rage can combine to produce horrors such as the Charleston church killings.
Lewis added that the final element that turns hate into violence is silence.
“I’m afraid we are much too quiet,” he said, urging everyone to stand up, speak up and condemn hate wherever it is found.