More than 350 people gathered at Temple Kol Emeth on Sunday, Aug. 16, 100 years to the day after Leo Frank was abducted from a Milledgeville prison cell to be driven through the night and lynched the next morning by some of Marietta’s most prominent citizens.
“We don’t live in that older South anymore,” Kol Emeth Rabbi Stephen Lebow said at his congregation’s memorial service for Frank.
“In the newer South, we are here to ask the state of Georgia to clear the name of an innocent man,” Lebow said. “Let the state of Georgia finally acknowledge that Leo Frank was innocent. That’s all we ask for. Nothing more is necessary. But nothing less will do.”
Lebow was joined by such speakers as Cobb County Superior Court Chief Judge Stephen Schuster, Georgia Senior Assistant Attorney General Van Pearlberg, former state Supreme Court Justices Leah Sears and Norman Fletcher, and lawyer Dale Schwartz, who served as lead counsel in obtaining a posthumous pardon for Frank in 1986.
Each speaker remembered Frank and pieced together a compelling argument for his exoneration.
Pearlberg explained how Frank’s court case was sensationalized through the media. Schwartz recounted his two attempts to secure a pardon for Frank in the 1980s. Sears raised awareness to the racial injustices that still occur in America on a regular basis.
Schuster said there are lessons to be learned from Frank’s case today.
“As an attorney and now as a judge,” he said, “This case is a reminder that the rule of law should never be overrun by the rule of the mob. We must answer to the Constitution, not to the person who shouts the loudest.”
T-shirts and Coke bottles that read “Leo Frank Innocent” were handed out at the event, held the day before the centennial of Frank’s lynching a few miles west of Kol Emeth along Ga. 120.
A petition to the Cobb County commissioners to exonerate Frank was started by Rabbi Lebow and had collected 244 of the required 500 signatures by Monday morning.
Frank was pardoned in 1986, but the Georgia did not declare him innocent of the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan at the Atlanta pencil factory he ran in April 1913. Instead, the pardon acknowledged that the state failed to give Frank a fair trial and to protect him from the lynch mob.
Rabbi Lebow, who has championed Frank’s case for decades, said he’s on a mission to clear Frank’s name once and for all.
“If we today, like everyone in Georgia, wishes to put the painful legacy of Leo Frank aside,” he said, “then let us acknowledge that it is not possible to make the future good unless we are willing to make the past right.”
He added: “We are living in the newer South, where justice delayed is justice denied.”