W.E.B. Du Bois


February 1, 1915

The Frank case only offers illustration of the truth that in the South all things may be brought about by an appeal to prejudice. This case differs from similar cases principally in that the victim was a Jew instead of a Negro and that a governor had courage enough at the last to resist the popular clamor for his blood and base his decision on the evidence in the case. The case also illustrates strikingly the inadequacy of our legal machinery in solving questions of justice. Frank escaped a legal lynching by the narrowest possible margin. His sentence was commuted by Governor Slaton only a few hours before the time appointed for his death. His appeal had been carried to the Supreme Court of the United States. The majority of the body like that of the State Supreme Court based its adverse decision entirely on points of law. It practically said that Frank had had a fair trial in law, if not in fact.

It is also difficult, it seems, for Boards of Pardon and Governors to deal with an “atmosphere”—say such an atmosphere as that of Atlanta, during the hours in which Frank’s life hung in the balance. Perhaps that is the real reason for the logical decision that a man of whose guilt there is too grave a doubt to hang him, may still be found guilty with enough certainty to spend his life in a Georgia convict camp. At all events it is very like the law.


For attribution, please cite this work as:
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1915. “Frank.” The Crisis 10 (4): 177.