Telling Story of Leo Frank From His Jail Cell

Forward Editor Journeyed South To Interview Convicted Jew

Forward Association

By Ab Cahan

Published August 20, 2013, issue of August 23, 2013.
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The 1913 trial and conviction of Leo Frank stoked a fiery public debate across America about race, religion, class and anti-Semitism. Frank’s case was so important to the Jewish community that the Forward’s editor, Abraham Cahan, traveled to Atlanta in 1914 to visit Frank in his jail cell. Cahan devoted 250 pages to Frank in the fifth volume of his memoirs, published in Yiddish in 1931. The following is an excerpt, translated by Chana Pollack, the Forward’s archivist, and edited for length and style.

Chapter 29 — I Travel To Atlanta

His cell was on an upper level. Behind iron bars stood a thin, brown haired young man with impressionable, intelligent eyes and next to him, inside his cell, a tall pretty young woman. They were Frank and his wife.

The portraits of him that I’d seen in the newspapers were similar to the original item. I recognized him immediately.

We greeted each other through the bars, and he introduced me to Mrs. Frank.

The neighboring cells — six — were empty. As I immediately realized, the Sheriff had intentionally not placed other prisoners there, in order for Frank to feel more comfortable, and to be able to have friends visit because the Sheriff, a man named Wheeler Mangum, was convinced that Frank was innocent and he did everything so that Frank’s life in captivity would be easier.

He had also permitted him to bring his own bed and bedding from home.

One of the cells was larger than the others, and the Franks and their guests used it as a parlor, sitting or standing and speaking through the bars.

Only Mrs. Frank was permitted by the Sheriff to go inside his cell. The rest of the visitors used to stand outside in the open ‘parlor.’ Mrs. Frank used to spend entire days there in his cell.

I jokingly remarked about the ‘seven room apartment’ that Frank rented here and he laughed heartily.

He told of how loyal the Sheriff was to him. At the time of the trial he was the one who, for the most part, drove Frank back and forth from the prison to court and back.

Once, when the trial neared its end, an angry crowd began pushing over to their car. Sheriff Mangum became upset.

Frank was seated next to him and in order to better protect his prisoner, Mangum told him to go sit behind him. Then, he drew his pistol out saying, “if they want to get you, they’ll have to get to you through my dead body. At any rate I’m an old man. You’re still young.”


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