…Call & Post reporter Harold Ross, 22, is reading about the lynching of Jewish businessman Leo Frank, 31, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Ross had covered the story of Frank’s trial back at the Atlanta Journal in the hot summer of 1913. The Journal was in fierce competition with the Atlanta Georgian, owned by the Hearst syndicate.
But Ross had managed to be with Frank when the police took him to the morgue to see the body of the victim, one of his employees, 14-year old Mary Phagan, and he had interviewed the accused afterwards. Ross wrote later,
Without making the assertion that Frank is innocent, it may be said that his conduct from the outset was that of an innocent man.
After Frank was convicted, Ross had moved on to New York City, back home to Salt Lake City, and then back here to San Francisco where he is in his old job at Hearst’s Call & Post. He has also returned to his addictive hobbies of poker and cribbage and is now enjoying driving around in a Stutz roadster.
This past June, when the outgoing Georgia governor commuted Frank’s sentence, Ross had written an article for the Call, “The Leo M. Frank Case by a Reporter Who Covered the Tragedy”:
If juries convict men upon [such] evidence…and judges uphold them, no man is absolutely safe from paying the penalty for a crime he did not commit…The police did what they always do in Georgia—arrested a Negro…But this time the public—always excitable in the South—was not satisfied…So they arrested more Negros. But this did not stop the clamor…The murder of Mary Phagan must be paid for with blood. And a Negro’s blood would not suffice …There was a strong religious prejudice against [Jewish] Frank. The atmosphere in the courtroom was obviously hostile.
And now, a few months later, a lynching. A group of more than 20 prominent Atlanta businessmen, calling themselves The Knights of Mary Phagan, kidnapped Frank from prison, drove him to a town near where Phagan grew up, and hung him. The crowd that gathered took pictures to turn into postcards. Some popular publications cheered the lynching, saying that the voice of the people had been heard.
Ross can see what is coming. Some members of the lynch mob were also charter members of the Georgia Ku Klux Klan and now would be encouraged to revive their old club…
This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.