Leo Frank

Leo Frank

Though commonly thought of as a hanging, as in the death of Leo Frank, a lynching is any extrajudicial (without legal authority and in violation of due process) killing by a mob. Frank was found guilty at a trial, but his death sentence was commuted by the governor.

Frank’s hanging commonly is referred to as the only lynching of a Jew in the United States, but it is cited here as “the best-known, though perhaps not the only, lynching” because the historical record is not certain.

He might not have been the only Jewish man lynched in Georgia in August 1915.

According to online lists of lynchings, a Jewish writer named Albert Bettelheim, convicted of murder, was lynched in Georgia on Aug. 15, 1915, two days before Frank was hanged. But no other information about Bettelheim is readily available.

Much more is known about the death of S.A. Bierfield, the Jewish operator of a dry goods store in Franklin, Tenn., on Aug. 15, 1868. According to news reports and an official federal inquiry, Bierfield was dragged out of his store and fatally shot by a several assailants, who also killed a black employee.

Sources suggest that Bierfield ran afoul of local sentiments as a supporter of Reconstruction who did business with whites and blacks or was framed in a murder plot or was a victim of the Ku Klux Klan, which had formed two years earlier in Pulaski, Tenn., about 60 miles from Franklin.

The main question with Bierfield is whether his killing was planned or just happened when he tried to run from his attackers.

Other online sources make reference to two Jews being lynched in the South in the 1890s without offering any more information.