And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank by Steve OneyOn April 27, 1913, the bludgeoned body of thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan was discovered in the basement of Atlanta’s National Pencil Factory. The girl’s murder would be the catalyst for an epic saga that to this day holds a singular place in America’s collective imagination—a saga that would climax in 1915 with the lynching of Leo Frank, the Cornell-educated Jew who was convicted of the murder. The case has been the subject of novels, plays, movies and even musicals, but only now, with the publication of And the Dead Shall Rise, do we have an account that does full justice to the mesmerizing and previously unknown details of one of the most shameful moments in the nation’s history.
In a narrative reminiscent of a nineteenth-century novel, Steve Oney recounts the emerging revelations of the initial criminal investigation, reconstructs from newspaper dispatches (the original trial transcript mysteriously disappeared long ago) the day-to-day intrigue of the courtroom and illuminates how and why an all-white jury convicted Frank largely on the testimony of a black man. Oney chronicles as well the innumerable avenues that the defense pursued in quest of an appeal, the remarkable and heretofore largely ignored campaign conducted by William Randolph Hearst and New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs to exonerate Frank, the last-minute commutation of Frank’s death sentence and, most indelibly, the flawlessly executed abduction and brutal lynching of Frank two months after his death sentence was commuted.
And the Dead Shall Rise brings to life a Dickensian cast of characters caught up in the Frank case—zealous police investigators intent on protecting their department’s reputation, even more zealous private detectives, cynical yet impressionable factory girls, intrepid reporters (including a young Harold Ross), lawyers blinded by their own interests and cowed by the populace’s furor. And we meet four astonishing individuals: Jim Conley, who was Frank’s confessed “accomplice” and the state’s star witness; William Smith, a determined and idealistic lawyer who brilliantly prepared Conley for the defense’s fierce cross-examination and then, a year later, underwent an extraordinary change of heart; Lucille Frank, the martyred wife of the convicted man; and the great populist leader Tom Watson, who manipulated the volatile and lethal outrage of Georgians against the forces of Northern privilege and capital that were seeking to free Frank.
And the Dead Shall Rise also casts long-awaited fresh light on Frank’s lynching. No participant was ever indicted, and many went on to prominent careers in state and national politics. Here, for the first time, is the full account of the event—including the identities of the influential Georgians who conceived, carried out and covered up the crime. And here as well is the story of the lynching’s aftermath, which saw both the revival of the Ku Klux Klan and the evolution of the Anti-Defamation League.
At once a work of masterful investigative journalism and insightful social history, And the Dead Shall Rise does complete justice to one of history’s most repellent and most fascinating moments.
Steve Oney with EHMS 8th Grade Georgia Studies
Brown on Oney, 'And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank'
Thank you! A particularly notorious, long-overlooked ethnic incident in southern history comes in for careful reconsideration, and many are found wanting in the bargain. And when the case dragged on in court a little too long for the liking of the citizenry, Frank was kidnapped and lynched strangely, with a judge in attendance. To these already ugly facts Oney adds any number of surprising twists that, coupled with his careful, almost minute-by-minute reconstruction of the matter, yields a very big but economical narrative. A superb work of true crime—and an altogether remarkable exercise in what might be called judicial archaeology.
Such was not the case at the beginning of the twentieth century, when year-old Mary Phagan was murdered at the pencil factory where she worked in Atlanta, Georgia, and the eventual lynching of the man arrested for the crime.
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Steve Oney Nieman Class of Oney spent 17 years reporting and writing a book that ABA Journal in named one of the 30 books every lawyer must read. And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank chronicled, in epic detail, the most notorious lynching in American history, of a Northern Jewish factory owner wrongly targeted in the death of a year-old Atlanta girl. The men had told their wives they were going fishing. But this was no ordinary group of anglers.
That morning, thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan, after eating a breakfast of cabbage and wheat biscuits, devoted herself to getting dressed. First, she donned stockings and garters, then a store-bought violet dress and gunmetal-gray pumps. Two bows in her auburn hair and a blue straw hat adorned with dried red flowers atop her head completed the outfit. Mary wanted to look nice, for Saturday, April 26, , marked a special occasion-Confederate Memorial Day. Around , with a silvery mesh purse and an umbrella the skies were misting rain in her hands, she boarded the English Avenue trolley headed to downtown Atlanta, where the annual parade would soon begin. Well turned out or not, Mary would have been one of the prettiest girls in any crowd.