On 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.
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In 1913, 13-year-old Mary Phagan was found brutally murdered in the basement of the Atlanta pencil factory where she worked. The factory manager, a college-educated Jew named Leo Frank, was arrested, tried, and convicted in a trial that seized national headlines. When the governor commuted his death sentence, Frank was kidnapped and lynched by a group of prominent local citizens.
Steve Oney’s acclaimed account re-creates the entire story for the first time, from the police investigations to the gripping trial to the brutal lynching and its aftermath. Oney vividly renders Atlanta, a city enjoying newfound prosperity a half-century after the Civil War, but still rife with barely hidden prejudices and resentments. He introduces a Dickensian pageant of characters, including zealous policemen, intrepid reporters, Frank’s martyred wife, and a fiery populist who manipulated local anger at Northern newspapers that pushed for Frank’s exoneration. Combining investigative journalism and sweeping social history, this is the definitive account of one of American history’s most repellent and most fascinating moments.
The People v. Leo Frank is now a motion picture based on the book And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank, starring Will Janowitz and Seth Gilliam. Enjoy these images from the film, and click the thumbnails to see larger images.
“Steve Oney’s epic And the Dead Shall Rise is a book I’ve been waiting my whole life to read. I was born in Atlanta, and used to hear my mother and grandmother argue for the innocence of Leo Frank against all comers. This book is a tragedy and a triumph and a wonder, all at the same time.”
--Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides
"A superb work of true crime -- and an altogether remarkable exercise in what might be called judicial archaeology."
-- Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"This is the book on the Leo Frank case I had been waiting for and one the reading public needs. I am struck by the narrative skill and ingenuity. For the first time I understand the full ironies, paradoxes, and horrors of this tragedy. I found the book difficult to put down."
-- C. Vann Woodward, author of The Strange Career of Jim Crow
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