If you’re like a lot of other people, this week you’re scratching you’re head trying to figure out what Nazis chanting anti-semitic slogans have to do with removing Civil War monuments. GOML is here to help.
First, let’s just clear the air about what Charlottesville was about. It was a “Unite The Right” rally, not particularly focused on the Civil War, and one of many planned in various parts of the country. There are nine similar rallies planned for next week alone in places like L.A., Pittsburgh, New York, Seattle, and the Google campus in Mountain View.
Turning this into a discussion of taking down symbols of the Confederacy is misdirection.
And, just for the record, here’s what Robert E. Lee said when asked about building a monument to the Confederate troops at Gettysburg:
“I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”
“As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated, my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the Country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; [and] of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour.”
And one other point: for all you Southerners who insist the Confederate side was not fighting to preserve the institution of slavery, but rather resisting the encroachment of federal government on the rights of the states to govern themselves, please be quiet. The only “States’ Rights” that anyone cared about was the right to continue the institution of slavery, on which the southern economy was based, and in which white southerners, in the main, deeply believed.
Still, the South is the natural place to try to “unite the right”, as racist and anti-semitic bacteria has always seemed to find a friendly petri-dish in which to grow there. The connection between white southern grievance and “foreigners” is central here in the thinking that outsiders are coming to take their jobs away and control them.
The belief of the various White Nationalist groups has always been that Jews would control and undermine local businesses, that the migration of black people to the North would saturate the labor market, and that Catholics would steal the rest of the jobs from Americans.
That’s the crux right there: for these people, Jews, African-Americans, and Catholics are not “Americans”.
The KKK and the Anti-Defamation league were both born in the South at the same time, precipitated by the same event. They arose following the death of Leo Frank. Or, to be more accurate, the lynching of Leo Frank. Today is a good day to remind everyone who Leo Frank was because it was on this day, August 17, in 1915 that he was murdered.
Leo Frank was a 31-year old mechanical engineer, working in his uncle’s pencil factory in Atlanta. Frank had graduated from Cornell in 1906, where he had been on the debate team, his class basketball and tennis teams, played a lot of chess, and was generally a happy and well-adjusted guy. He moved to Atlanta in 1908 and married in 1910. He was active in the Jewish community in Atlanta and became president of the B’nai B’rith fraternal society there in 1912.
He was accused (wrongly, as almost every scholar and historian now agrees) of the strangulation murder of Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old child of the confederacy from nearby Marietta.
He was convicted at trial primarily on the testimony given by the janitor, Jim Conley, who most historians now agree was the actual perpetrator. The verdict was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court on the basis that the trial was a travesty and that the verdict was driven by anti-semitism.
Frank had been sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison. From this Wiki:
The case attracted national press and many reporters deemed the conviction a travesty. Within Georgia, this outside criticism fueled antisemitism and hatred toward Frank. On August 16, 1915, he was kidnapped from prison by a group of armed men and lynched at Marietta, Mary Phagan’s hometown, the next morning. The new governor vowed to punish the lynchers, who included prominent Marietta citizens, but nobody was charged. In 1986, Frank was posthumously pardoned by the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles, although not officially absolved of the crime.
The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913, with the Frank case being specifically mentioned by the founder, Adolf Kraus. Also, from the Frank Wiki:
After Frank’s lynching, around half of Georgia’s 3,000 Jews left the state. According to author Steve Oney, “What it did to Southern Jews can’t be discounted … It drove them into a state of denial about their Judaism. They became even more assimilated, anti-Israel, Episcopalian. The Temple did away with chupahs at weddings – anything that would draw attention.” Many American Jews saw Frank as an American Alfred Dreyfus, both of whom were seen as victims of antisemitic persecution.
And the Klan was also revived by the trial:
Two weeks after the lynching, in the September 2, 1915 issue of The Jeffersonian, Watson wrote, “the voice of the people is the voice of God”, capitalizing on his sensational coverage of the controversial trial. In 1914, when Watson began reporting his anti-Frank message, The Jeffersonian’s circulation had been 25,000; by September 2, 1915, its circulation was 87,000. On November 25, 1915, a group led by William Joseph Simmons burned a cross on top of Stone Mountain, inaugurating a revival of the Ku Klux Klan.
The ADL and the KKK have remained on opposite sides of many arguments in the century since these events. Until the Tweety administration, the momentum of history was clearly operating against the forces of intolerance, as it became less and less acceptable to hang on to or espouse the old views. And in recent decades, Jewish Americans have felt less pressure to deny their heritage to gain acceptance as Americans.
For reasons best known only to himself, the President of the United States has chosen this moment to once again release the genie of hatred from its bottle. Leo Frank is not resting peacefully tonight.