From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up—On April 26, 1913, 13-year-old Mary Phagan left her Atlanta, GA, home to pick up her paycheck at the National Pencil Company and then attend the Confederate Memorial Day celebration. She never made it to the latter. Instead, her battered body was found in the basement of the factory along with two cryptic, semiliterate notes and some bloody handprints on a nearby door. The investigation was compromised from the get-go by a determination on the part of the police to bypass an obvious suspect and indict Frank, the company supervisor. The strictly chronological structure of this account of his arrest, indictment, conviction, and lynching is extremely helpful in understanding both the progression of the case through the court system and the impact of anti-Semitism and resentment toward Northerners in the post-Reconstruction South. The author's stance can hardly be termed objective, as her pro-Frank bias is clear. As presented, it seems obvious that he was innocent of the crime. The actual murderer confessed to his lawyer, who divulged the information in an autobiography published 46 years later, and an eyewitness confession in 1982 corroborated this. However, many people in Georgia still believe wholeheartedly that Frank was guilty. As the record stands, with his death sentence commuted in 1915 and official pardon issued in 1986, this recounting of an injustice is as haunting as the author contends. Well-placed period photos and reproductions add immediacy to the text, though the photographs of Frank's lynching are graphic and disturbing.—Ann Welton, Helen B. Stafford Elementary, Tacoma, WA
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This detailed, fully documented account tells of the trial and lynching of a Jewish factory superintendent, falsely accused of the 1913 rape and murder of teenager Mary Phagan in Atlanta. Alphin digs into the roots of anti-Semitism that grew from post-Reconstruction hardship and shows that Leo Frank was viewed, and despised, by many in his community as a “privileged Yankee Jew.” Throughout his trial, a racist mob raged outside the courtroom, spurred on by high-ranking government officials and by sensationalized press coverage. On one level, this is a whodunit. How did Phagan’s body end up in the basement? Was an African American worker involved? The details are made even more horrific when accompanied by the numerous black-and-white photos, including court scenes and a picture postcard of the lynching. The detailed back matter includes an annotated list of major figures in the case, as well as source notes and a bibliography. The case revitalized the KKK and prompted the formation of the Anti-Defamation League, and it clearly connects with the contemporary ongoing struggle by the underprivileged for fair judicial process. Grades 9-12. --Hazel Rochman