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This Day in Georgia History

April 17, 1884

Leo Frank Born

Leo Frank was born in Cuero, Texas. Within a few months, the family moved to Brooklyn, where Leo grew up. He graduated from Cornell University in 1906, earning a degree in mechanical engineering. In December 1907, Frank went to Europe for a nine-month apprenticeship in pencil manufacturing. In August 1908, he moved to Atlanta to assume the supervision of the National Pencil Factory. In October 1910, Frank married Lucille Selig, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Emil Selig, with whom they subsequently lived. By 1913, Atlanta’s Jewish community was the largest in the South. Leo Frank served as president of the Atlanta chapter of B’nai B’rith, while maintaining his position as supervisor of the National Pencil Factory. On Saturday, April 26 of that year Mary Phagan, a teenage employee of the factory, came to collect her wages from Frank. At some point before leaving the factory, Phagan was murdered. Leo Frank was arrested, charged, and convicted of the murder in one of the most infamous trials in American history. Much of the evidence, later corroborated by witnesses, indicated Frank was innocent of the crime. Nevertheless, Frank was convicted and sentenced to death. After unsuccessfully appealing his death sentence all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court, Frank’s sentence was commuted to life in prison by Georgia governor John Slaton. This caused an uproar throughout the state, and a few months later a group of armed men from Mary Phagan’s hometown of Marietta kidnapped Leo Frank from his prison bed and hanged him near Marietta. In 1982, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles officially pardoned Frank on the grounds that the state did not do its duty of protecting him.