An Unspeak­able Crime: The Pros­e­cu­tion and Per­se­cu­tion of Leo Frank

Elaine Alphin

  • Review
By – October 10, 2011

Elaine Alphin’s An Unspeak­able Crime: The Pros­e­cu­tion and Per­se­cu­tion of Leo Frank, care­ful­ly doc­u­ments the tri­al and lynch­ing of the Jew­ish fac­to­ry super­in­ten­dent, false­ly accused of the 1913 rape and mur­der of teenag­er Mary Pha­gan in Atlanta. The account reads like a Law and Order episode gone ter­ri­bly wrong. Alphin has clear­ly researched the tri­al, the anti-Semit­ic sen­ti­ments in the com­mu­ni­ty, as well as the lies and cor­rup­tion that ulti­mate­ly led to Frank being found guilty and lat­er lynched. Her prose is clear and con­cise. She pro­vides a thor­ough chronol­o­gy and back mat­ter, sup­port­ed by arrest­ing black and white pho­tos, includ­ing one of Frank hang­ing from a tree. This book reads like a mys­tery. How did Phagan’s body end up in the base­ment? Was an African Amer­i­can work­er involved? But this book is also a tragedy. Alphin writes, Atlanta’s May­or Wood­ward called Leo’s lynch­ing for Mary Phagan’s mur­der a just penal­ty for an unspeak­able crime’. But was Mary’s mur­der the only unspeak­able crime? Wasn’t Leo’s lynch­ing an unspeak­able crime also?”

Leo Frank’s sto­ry is shock­ing, but young read­ers should know about this piece of his­to­ry. The case revi­tal­ized the KKK and prompt­ed the for­ma­tion of the Anti-Defama­tion League. It should prompt excel­lent dis­cus­sions about prej­u­dice and anti-Semi­tism in our world today. For grades 8 – adult.

Sarah Aron­son holds an MFA in Writ­ing for Chil­dren and Young Adults from Ver­mont Col­lege. She is a full time writer and has recent­ly pub­lished her first nov­el, Head Case (Roar­ing Brook) for young adults. Sara blogs every Thurs­day for the Lilith blog.

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