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While Frank sat in jail, the founding editor of the Forverts, Ab. Cahan went down to Georgia to visit him in March 1914 and wrote scores of articles in the Forverts in Frank’s defense.
Historically, the vast majority of lynching victims were black, often murdered by angry working class whites. This case was very different. As Oney discovered after years of painstaking research, the lynching was planned by 25 prominent men from Marietta, including a former Georgia governor, sheriffs, then- and former mayors of Marietta, a judge, local businessmen, a doctor, a banker, lawyers and an assemblyman. The actual lynching was done by mostly farmers and working men.
“In other words, big shots called the shots, and the middle and lower-class guys carried out their orders,” Oney said.
On August 16, 1915 the gang kidnapped Frank from Milledgeville State Penitentiary, drove him to Marietta, and hanged him from a tree on August 17. When word got out, thousands of onlookers arrived at the scene.
“Frank was not kidnapped from some county jail, but from the well-guarded state penitentiary in a highly orchestrated operation,” Oney said. The perpretators penetrated the prison late at night and drove the victim almost 150 miles to Marietta, close to the Phagan home. “This was not a lynch mob, but a military mission.”
Since the lynching party drove to the site in several automobiles, Oney learned their identities by looking through the auto registration for every resident of the county in that year. He also interviewed the sons and daughters of the alleged murderers, and one lynch party member even had a list of all the participants, which her father had given her and which she kept inside her Bible.
In January 2000, Stephen J. Goldfarb, a research librarian, posted one version of the list, with 23 names, on the Internet.