“Grotesquery to the Surface”: The Leo Frank Case and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America Revisited in Trump’s Alt-Right America
This essay returns to the story of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory owner lynched in 1915 by a mob that catalyzed the regrettable reemergence of the KKK. Philip Roth describes the lynching of Frank in his alternative history, The Plot Against America (2004), and reading the historical event alongside the novel furnishes a means to see how deeply the interconnection between hatreds flows in the United States more than one hundred years later and to help unpack some of what we suffer now. A through-line exists between the KKK then and Trump-era white supremacist groups now. This article contends that while focusing on questions of Jewishness and its representations is crucial, we also need to work cross-racially/culturally in order to understand and thus combat the logics of white supremacy. The case of Leo Frank and the diatribes and hate speeches that ultimately fueled his lynching highlight the long historical imbrication of Blackness and Jewishness in the United States, which then, in turn, fed Nazi propaganda. Understanding what has been unleashed under Trump and exploring ways that Jewish studies scholars can address multiple forms of white supremacy requires an historically informed approach to the concurrent and mutually-fueling rise in racism and antisemitism.
Jewishness, Trump, Leo Frank, Philip Roth, Spike Lee
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“how hard can that be, saying that nazis are bad?”
As Barack Obama spoke at the University of Illinois Campus nearly two years after Trump was elected, a huge crowd of enthusiastic supporters and fans filled the quad—these were the folks who could not get in to the auditorium, packed with more than a thousand students, while hundreds more poured into the Student Union to watch a live broadcast. In his speech, Obama asked, “How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?” and no one will have missed the reference to Trump’s initial failure to condemn the white supremacist violence at Charlottesville (Associated Press 2018). Sharply contrasting the general enthusiasm, a lone white man stood in the rain in front of the august, columned hall where the speech was in full swing and, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other, held aloft a sign with a rough, hand-drawn image that rendered Obama’s face a lot like the Joker; under his sketched portrait the words “Cultural Marxist” appeared embellished with a huge blue Jewish star [Figure 1]. This protester channeled the
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meme that figured Obama as the Joker with the word “socialism” under his face but more importantly, the sign typifies an upsurge in hate speech that combines racism with antisemitism (Jenkins 2009).
A much more widely circulated example of this hateful combination occurred when an iconic tribute to Black Power mural in Crenshaw, CA entitled “Our Mighty Contribution” was defaced by white swastikas violently spray-painted over the faces of the heroes. Through destroying images of Black Power with Nazi symbols the vandals tap into a deep vein of combined hatred. Indeed, swastika graffiti is up 76% since 2016, and the symbols appear in varied forms including the transformation of a front yard into a beacon of hate by installing a gigantic concrete swastika (the titles of one of the news articles included: “Total Jerk Cements Large Swastika” (Weisberger 2019)). Large, red swastikas had been spray-painted on the office walls of a Holocaust scholar at Columbia’s Teacher’s College, Professor Elizabeth Midlarksy, who explained that she had been the target of an antisemitic attack before but this one chilled her and frightened her in ways that she perceived were in keeping with the sharp rise of antisemitism under Trump.1 Eleven people were murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh in an anti-immigrant, antisemitic rampage. The Chabad of Poway, CA was attacked by a gunman who killed a woman and wounded three others including the Rabbi and an eight-year-old girl. A vast number of tweets and re-tweets spread a falsehood that the Jewish philanthropist and Holocaust survivor, George Soros, was funding a caravan of immigrants from Honduras to the border. This was patently false and yet Soros was one of the people who received a pipe bomb in his mailbox, most likely in response to this lie.2 The Guardian interpreted the demonization of Soros as a “sign that taboos on public antisemitism have all but disappeared” (Wilson 2018). While chanted and spray-painted slogans such as “Trump Nation Whites Only” have been endured and while derogatory terms for Jews and Blacks skyrocketed in online chatrooms and elsewhere, Trump’s Great America is rife with violent and rising racism and antisemitism (see Fisher/Harwell 2019 and Reilly 2016).
Some of the hate crimes detailed above erupted in the wake of the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia which devolved into riots and violence as James Alex Fields Jr., a man espousing white supremacist ideology, killed a counter-protestor, Heather Hayer, and injured twenty-eight other people. Fields agitated for “violence against blacks and supported Nazi-era Germany.”3 At the “Unite the Right” rally, KKK members wore swastikas, shouted “Blood and Soil!,” “Jews will not replace us,” “Go the fuck back to Africa,” and other anti-Black and antisemitic proclamations. The rally was precipitated by white supremacist groups reacting to the potential removal of a statue of Confederate hero Robert E. Lee.4 Like other such statues, this symbol of the Confederacy can be recognized as a valorization of slavery and as part of the caustic nostalgia for the [End Page 46] old South that fuels contemporary racism (although many people who support Confederate imagery do not see it this way; I am calling this longing for an Old South “caustic” because the sentimental parts of nostalgia obfuscate a desire for a return to slavery). In Trump’s America, the controversy over removing these statues furnishes opportunities to generate outrage and violence. Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” resonates with this caustic nostalgia and evinces a desire for a white-dominated America that resembles the slave-holding South. What was puzzling to some, that at an avowedly racist rally within a Lost Cause mode, antisemitic words, symbols, and slogans burst forth alongside anti-Black racist words, symbols, and slogans, is in fact deeply grounded historically and rhetorically because racism and antisemitism, from U.S. anti-miscegenation laws and segregationist policies, through Nazi ideology, and back again, have always already been thoroughly entwined.
A reporter for the Chicago Tribune summed up what many felt as surprise at the antisemitism: “I fully expected the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA., to turn into a hate-filled demonstration against African-Americans. What caught me by surprise, though, was the venomous attack on Jews” (Glanton 2017). The implicit reason for this surprise is that Jews are viewed as white and as part of the establishment. Many accounts echoed this wonder (431,000 hits pop up to the Google search “surprise at antisemitism Charlottesville”) while, in contrast to this shock, a string of responses suggested that one need not have been surprised because, indeed, racism and antisemitism have always already been yoked together.5 As one journalist summed it up, “If you’re surprised by anti-Semitism, you’re not paying attention” (Goldhill 2018). Another article suggested that the left can see all forms of oppression except for anti-Semitism (Bovy 2017). While much astonishment expressed itself at the confluence of hatreds exhibited at Charlottesville, many recent texts, including Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (to which I turn in the conclusion) take as their fundamental premise a deep and historically grounded imbrication of these bigotries.
Franz Fanon divulges that whereas he initially found it strange that the “anti-Semite’s outlook should be related to that of the Negro-phobe,” he then later realized that “an anti-Semite is inevitably anti-Negro” (1967, 122). The converse can be said to be often, but certainly not always true—anti-Black racism will often attend antisemitism, but we cannot ignore white Jewish anti-Black racism. The conflation in the white supremacist imaginary between Jews and Blacks nonetheless lays bare how, while systemic racism thwarts and debilitates many Black Americans in ways far more damaging than the antisemitism experienced by the majority of white Jews in the United States today, this logic continues to see both as threats to white ascendancy. The repeated returns on the part of twenty-first century white nationalists to Nazi ideology, the use of swastikas and the costumes and rhetoric of Nazism in the context of longing for the slave South highlight how imbricated [End Page 47] Blackness and Jewishness are for the alt-right and their brand of “populism.” The Southern Poverty Law Center affirms, “Trump is a hero to the alt-right.”6
Neil Levi and Michael Rothberg offer a fruitful analysis of how we might both learn from and avoid oversimplifying a connection between Trump’s populism and earlier forms such as that of Nazi Germany, Péronist Argentina, or even early 20th century US anitsemitic, white supremacist populists such as the Georgia politician, writer, and publisher Thomas E. Watson (to whom I turn below). Levi and Rothberg find,
To grasp the present as a moment of danger, we need both to pay close attention to the spread of the far right as it manifests itself in divergent forms around the globe and to consider the deeper history of crisis and emergency that has enabled authoritarian claims on state power. At the same time, we need to remain skeptical of the equation of dangers past and present that the resurgent memory of fascism sometimes encourages, while continuing to recognize memory, in all its diverse, heterogeneous strands, as a vital resource for political critique that orients our expectations and might guide our actions.(2018, 365)
In reflecting on historical precedents as we live through an epic resurgence of white supremacist ideals fueled by a populist president and while we witness “violent political messaging emanating from the White House and echoed throughout the conservative media” (Reitman 2018, 45) we can knit memories’ diverse strands into our readings of the present without conflating past and future.
In this article, I return to the story of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory owner wrongfully convicted in 1913 and then lynched in 1915, whose case Philip Roth describes in his alternative history The Plot Against America (2004), as a means to see how deeply the interconnection between hatreds flows in the United States more than one hundred years later and to help unpack some of what we suffer now. As we will see, that the Frank case erupted on Confederate Memorial Day of all days turns out to have more to do with tensions between Old and New South imaginaries than might have been suspected. The KKK reemerged at the moment of Frank’s lynching, thus plotting an arc from the 1915 rebirth of this racist, antisemitic organization to its connections with Trump-era white supremacist groups and the explosion of hatred now (summer 2019). I argue here that while focusing on questions of Jewishness and its representations is crucial, we also need to work cross-racially/culturally in order to understand and thus combat the logics of white supremacy. The case of Leo Frank and the diatribes and hate speeches that ultimately catalyzed his lynching and contributed to the rebirth of the KKK highlight the long historical imbrication of Blackness and Jewishness in the United States which then fed Nazi propaganda. Understanding what has been unleashed [End Page 48] under Trump and exploring ways that Jewish studies scholars can address multiple forms of white supremacy require an historically informed approach to the concurrent and mutually-fueling rise in racism and antisemitism.
the plot against america
Since Philip Roth passed away on 22 May 2018, countless people have asked me to speculate about what they perceive as the frightening resonances between the steep and violent rise in antisemitism in The Plot Against America and the actual steep and violent rise in antisemitism and racism under Trump’s presidency (and I am sorry to say that the examples I mentioned briefly above are a mere smattering of what we experience now). Roth’s fictional President Lindbergh would have fit right in with the alt-right’s xenophobia and with the antisemitism espoused by many of its adherents. Roth performs in The Plot Against America a nerve-jangling fantasy of how Jewish Americans could have been, like European Jews, debased, incarcerated, and murdered. And this happens in an American way resonant with anti-Black racism. I closed my chapter on Plot in Jewish Anxiety and the Novels of Philip Roth with the following hopeful tone: “As I write, President Obama resides in the White House. . . . The specter of a White House peopled by those who received at rallies shouts of ‘lynch him’ in reference to their rival, Obama, has happily not become reality. A fictional text could well be written about what kinds of racism and anti-Semitism might have been allowed to flower had that ticket [i.e., McCain-Palin] won more significant national support” (2015, 162). Alas, that fictional text need not be written: we just gaze at the news spellbound with horror. Roth’s death catalyzed renewed interest in him and his novels, and when reading or re-reading Plot many were struck by the parallels between the fictional and the real.7 In Plot a burning cross brings the “Lindbergh grotesquery to the surface” (2004, 262) and catalyzes an American Kristallnacht (266). But this fictional version has deeper historical resonance than is often assumed; according to James Whitman, Nazi ideology was deeply indebted to U.S. racial anti-miscegenation legislation, particularly in the forging of the Nuremberg laws. Thus, when, as the memorable cover of Plot pictures it, a giant Swastika obfuscates the pristine landscapes of America (fig. 2), we can also imagine Nazi Germany covered over by an American flag that would have come to represent segregation.
Plot tells the story of the Roth family—the main characters share the names of Roth’s actual family members: Philip Roth, his brother, Sandy, his parents Herman and Bess. It may well be the case that Roth chose to name his main character “Philip Roth” (as he does in Operation Shylock and elsewhere) in order to construct as realist a portrait as possible of what is an entirely false—although not unimaginable—plot. Historical events as they unfold in the novel differ [End Page 49]
significantly from U.S. history while Roth simultaneously describes with true-to-life details historical figures including Leo Frank, Fiorello La Guardia, Westbrook Pegler, Walter Winchell, and many others. An historically accurate postscript delineates the differences between these people and their fictionalized incarnations. In the fiction, a Charles Lindbergh presidency replaces that of Roosevelt’s third term in office. Putting into motion antisemitic, isolationist policies, Lindbergh’s administration separates Jewish children from their families and relocates them from their East Coast enclaves to assimilationist camps in the Midwest where their Jewishness will evaporate into the corn and they will fully Americanize. Using many of the tropes, symbols, and historical truths of US racism and antisemitism, including lynching and the KKK, Roth demonstrates the connections between racism and antisemitism fictively but in ways that illuminate both the present and the historical confluences between these hatreds. It is a grouping that flows multi-directionally (to use Michael Rothberg’s term) between American white supremacist eugenics movements, through the combining of racism and antisemitism in [End Page 50] Nazi Germany, and then back to the confluence of these two forms of hatred in the KKK—from its inception in the 1860s until its reinvigoration after Leo Frank was lynched for a murder he almost certainly did not commit to its further flare-ups with the alt-right and other white supremacist groups under Trump today.
Plot was published during George W. Bush’s first term and Roth consistently refuted all attempts to map the Bush presidency onto the fictional isolationist “America First!” presidency of the novel’s Lindbergh. Presumably Roth read those attempts as more in a long line of critics irritatingly trying to sort fiction from autobiography in his work. As his narrator declaims in Deception, “I write fiction and I’m told it’s autobiography, I write autobiography and I’m told it’s fiction, so since I’m so dim and they’re so smart, let them decide what it is or it isn’t,” (1990, 184).8 Despite provocations such as naming fictional characters “Philip Roth,” Roth has been dependably irked by all the attempts to line up reality with fiction. It need not be the case that Plot was about Bush or somehow “predicted” Trump with his “Make America Great Again” resonating with the populist message of Lindbergh’s “America First!,” or that the sharp and painful rise of hatreds under Trump’s presidency was presaged in the novel in order for us to see what Roth’s treatment of racism and antisemitism perform.
In an interview published in January 2018, Charles McGrath tells Roth that the resonances between Bush and Lindbergh pale in comparison to the prescient resonances between Lindbergh and Trump. To this, Roth replied:
However prescient “The Plot Against America” might seem to you, there is surely one enormous difference between the political circumstances I invent there for the U.S. in 1940 and the political calamity that dismays us so today. It’s the difference in stature between a President Lindbergh and a President Trump. Charles Lindbergh, in life as in my novel, may have been a genuine racist and an anti-Semite and a white supremacist sympathetic to Fascism, but he was also — because of the extraordinary feat of his solo trans-Atlantic flight at the age of 25 — an authentic American hero. . . . Trump, by comparison, is a massive fraud, the evil sum of his deficiencies, devoid of everything but the hollow ideology of a megalomaniac.9
Indeed, Roth’s admiration for the historical Lindbergh, his portrait of him as an “authentic American hero,” comes through with crystal clarity. But equally clearly Roth maps with uncannily realistic detail what an abuse of charismatic power can yield: an American Holocaust enacted through KKK trademarks such as burning crosses. In speculating about the comparisons between the fictional fascist presidency of Lindbergh and Trump’s (unfortunately nonfictional) presidency, Frank Rich finds that “[e]ach day this president stays in office advances his mission further. As a consequence, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, much cited as a [End Page 51] prescient and chilling prophecy of Trump, may yet be viewed as a rather optimistic fairy tale.” One can only hope that the mass eruption of antisemitism that the alternative history evokes is not “optimistic.”
Another “chilling” but regrettably historically very real chapter in U.S. history, where, to return to the words Walter Benjamin wrote in 1940, a memory “flashes up in a moment of danger” (255), is the case of Leo Frank, which appears toward the end of Plot. The case acts as a fulcrum through which to see the long historical interconnections between racism and antisemitism. The Frank story generated an enormous amount of press coverage, and many filmic or musical adaptations. There is a film, They Won’t Forget (1937); a television movie, The Murder of Mary Phagan (1988); a musical, Parade (1998); and a PBS documentary, The People vs. Leo Frank (2009). David Mamet wrote a novel based on Frank, The Old Religion (1997), and a play and several songs appeared as well. Some of these and other treatments of the case are analyzed in Jeffrey Melnick’s Black-Jewish Relations on Trial, which offers a nuanced reading of the various representations of the Frank narrative.
These plentiful artistic renderings indicate the huge interest this case has drawn; yet, scholars have not focused on Frank in their readings of Plot—and this makes perfect sense as it is not a central part of the novel.10 One notable exception is Walter Ben Michaels who takes Roth to task for using the structures of anti-Black racism and applying them to antisemitism in the fictive fascist United States. Michaels finds that the appearance of the Frank case “adds insult to injury” (2006, 290) because of the vast inequality between the huge numbers of Black men lynched and the tiny numbers of Jews lynched.11 Indeed, Michaels is right because violence against Blacks in the United States remains more prevalent than that against most white Jews. Yet, returning to the Frank case sheds light on the deep imbrication in the white supremacist imaginary of Blacks and Jews and thus helps explain why, in moments of danger such as Charlottesville, hatred flows like lava to the two groups.
In Plot, Philip’s brother, Sandy, has been enticed into the “Just Folks” movement, relocated to Kentucky in order to become de-judaicized, de-Yankified, and disconnected from his Jewish family and the safety in numbers of the Newark Jewish milieu from which he was lured by a fantasy of seamless assimilation with the goyim. Infatuated with a “West Virginia mountain girl” (2004, 361), Sandy begins to draw her. And draw her. A skilled realist artist, Sandy’s sketches had been part of the plot of the novel all along—from his adoring portraits of Lindbergh, termed the “American Hitler” (2004, 110), to a patriotic series of portraits stealthily hidden under his bed lest his anti-Lindbergh father Herman find them (75). Sandy’s seemingly innocent sketches of the “nubile” mountain girl, Cecile, evoke the rage of Herman Roth who took his son Sandy “by the belt of his trousers and dragged him, sketchpad and all, clear off the side of the porch and out to the road and into the car” (359). The girl undeniably reminds Herman of the factory girl, Mary Phagan, whom Leo Frank was falsely accused of murdering. Sandy [End Page 52] misunderstands his father’s rage and imagines that he is upset because of the sexual nature of the portrait (Sandy draws all of Cecile, not just her face). Defending himself, Sandy lies, “it’s only her face” to which Herman replies: “I don’t care what it is! You never heard of Leo Frank? You never heard of the Jew they lynched in Georgia because of that little factory girl? Stop drawing her, damn it! Stop drawing any of them! These people don’t like being drawn—can’t you see that? We came out to Kentucky to get this boy because they have burned his mother to death in her car! For Christ’s sake, put those drawing things away, and don’t draw any more girls!” (359, italics in original). The child to whom Herman refers is Seldon, whose mother was burned to death by the KKK in an antisemitic attack; the boy then comes back to New Jersey to live with the Roths (328–41). After Herman’s injunction against any future portraits of non-Jewish girls, they begin driving east, and on the way, Sandy admits later, he had felt “frightened just about all the time: frightened when they passed through cities where Ku Klux Klansmen had to be lying in wait for any Jew foolhardy enough to be driving through” (360). Then, Roth adds a one-page description of the Frank case, concluding that Herman’s co-workers, when he was just a bit younger than Phagan herself, and working in a factory in 1915, were delighted when Frank was lynched and that “hanging ‘the sodomite’ from a tree in Marietta, Georgia (Mary Phagan’s hometown), [was] a public warning to other ‘Jewish libertines’ to stay the hell out of the South and away from their women” (361, parentheses in original).
Roth here enacts a fascinating amalgam of racism and antisemitism. In other words, Sandy’s desirous artistic rendering of a gentile girl calls up for Herman the lynching of an innocent Jewish man for supposedly having lustful thoughts about a gentile factory girl; then, as the Jewish father and son return to the East Coast, they live in fear of the KKK, thus again being structurally aligned by Roth as victims of the group which indeed was and is avowedly antisemitic but whose actions have historically been directed against Black people. That the antisemitic factory workers refer to Frank as a “sodomite” adds yet another layer of discrimination to the story, because, even though Frank was supposed to have had lustful thoughts about a young woman, not a boy, he had been slandered and debased as a “Jewish degenerate” and “sodomite” by white supremacist figures such as the Southern populist and onetime presidential candidate Thomas E. Watson.
the leo frank case
In a widely circulated 1915 diatribe, Thomas E. Watson, who ran for president (as did David Duke) on a populist platform not unlike Trump’s, combined racist and antisemitic tropes in ways that illuminate how the two hatreds have often been figured together. Watson would have been a fitting character in a novel that Roth never [End Page 53] wrote about Leo Frank—he was brash and loud in his sentiments and played a huge role in stirring up hatred. The Frank case began tellingly on Confederate Memorial Day, 1913, when the body of a thirteen-year-old kid, Mary Phagan, was found in a Pencil Factory in Atlanta managed by Leo Frank, a young Jewish man from Brooklyn who was found guilty, convicted, and then dragged from his jail cell and lynched for a crime he probably did not commit by a group that later evolved into the resurgent KKK—they christened themselves the “Knights of Mary Phagan.”
Frank, who was born in Paris, Texas in 1884, but grew up in Brooklyn, had graduated from Cornell with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, and moved to Atlanta at the invitation of his uncle, Moses Frank, to help build the Pencil Factory in which Phagan was murdered. He was part of the Atlanta Jewish upper crust; his wife’s family, the Seligs, were established elites and Frank was (as of 1912) President of the local B’nai B’rith. About half of the Jewish families in Atlanta left after the lynching. No longer feeling safe, they were “ostracized [and]... crippled financially by a massive boycott of Jewish businesses” (Roberts 1982, 2). Contemporaries often described Frank as exceedingly nervous and this level of Jewish anxiety fueled the general sentiment that damned him without his having committed a crime. The influx of Eastern European Jewish immigrants led to the rising precarity of the assimilated Jewish families in Atlanta because these new immigrants reminded some gentiles of Jewishness as difference.12 After the governor of Georgia, John Slaton, commuted Frank’s sentence from death to life in prison five days before the end of his term, a crowd 5,000 strong surrounded the governor’s mansion, “armed with revolvers, rifles, saws, hatchets and dynamite. . . . They were routed by the state militia before they could do harm to Slaton.”13 Then, on 17 August 1915, a mob from Mary Phagan’s home town of Marietta, Georgia abducted Frank from his cell and lynched him. Historians such as Leonard Dinnerstein, Harry Golden, Steve Oney, and Robert Seitz Frey and Nancy Thompson-Frey have subsequently and convincingly argued for Frank’s innocence. During Frank’s trial, one person after another testified to his supposed degeneracy, perversion, and inappropriate conduct with women—they were apparently all lying. Mobs crowding around outside the courtroom as the trial proceeded shouted “hang the Jew!” Vehement antisemitism drenched the overall atmosphere in the courtroom so that the jury feared announcing an innocent verdict. Frank’s lawyers were “counting on the jury not to convict on the word of a black man” (Frey 1988, 150; John Seigenthaler). Frank was figured as “foreign” because of his Jewishness, and this left open space for Jim Conley, a Black janitor who was definitely at the factory on the day of the crime, to be situated as a local, a real American.
Mary Phagan, historians now generally agree, was not raped or molested. She was robbed and the murder may have been an accidental outcome of Conley’s theft of approximately $1.25, which Phagan had received for ten hours of labor in the pencil factory.14 As Katya Gibel Azoulay notes, Frank’s lynching was “deliberately [End Page 54] intended as a warning” (1997, 66). Azoulay goes on to quote Weisbord and Stein who summarize the warning as “The Next Jew Who Does What Frank Did Is Going to Get Exactly the Same Thing We Give to Negro Rapists (1997, 12). The prosecution had to create a Leo Frank who was a sexual deviant, a “degenerate Jew,” in order to convict him with scant evidence and principally on the testimony of Conley, the probable actual murderer. It may seem perplexing that so many (about eleven) witnesses would lie under oath and claim that Frank was inappropriate sexually with the girls in the factory when, in fact, he was likely an upstanding citizen, a happily married man, a beacon of virtue, and not a predator—sexual or otherwise. The most credible explanation is that the lies were perpetrated because the police had evidence on these false “witnesses” and they threated to prosecute them if they failed to paint Frank as a lascivious Jew. It is also probable that they were entreated to lie because painting Frank in this way was already pre-scripted for them by antisemitic tropes. The case gave rise to two opposing forces: the rebirth of the KKK (also fueled by the release and vast popularity of The Birth of Nation which blasted across screens in February of 191515) and the creation of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, which became known simply by its shortened acronym, the ADL.
Jeffrey Melnick, who, unlike most other commentators on the case, refuses to weigh in on Frank’s innocence or guilt, aptly notes that the “main issues under debate in that courthouse all revolved around the question of whether industrialization and urbanization could be made to fit into the established system of racial and sexual power in Atlanta” (2000, 30). As a Brooklyn Jew—even a “degenerate” Northern Jew, Frank offered a different color to the black and white hues of the major colors on trial. The Frank case takes on enhanced meaning in Roth’s The Plot Against America by very nearly being given the final word. There is only one paragraph after the long description of Frank so this violent, gripping narrative closes the novel and offers a reminder that Jews, too, were lynched and that the likes of the KKK amalgamates Jews and Blacks. There is the additional overlay here of Nazi ideology’s fixation with the supposedly over-sexed Jew. As Dagmar Herzog describes in Sex After Fascism, there was an obsessional desire to trace and record “Jewish sex criminality and the prevalence in Germany of ‘race defilement’ (i.e., consensual sex between Jews and non-Jews)... one could easily get the impression that non-Jews seldom if ever had sex with one another” (2005, 37). Herzog includes a series of images from Nazi propaganda of lustful Jewish men “defiling” Aryan women in ways that resonate powerfully with US racist images of Black men lusting after white women. Among the many fascinating aspects of the Leo Frank case is the fact that the lustful sexual desire had to be fabricated by the prosecution in order to portray Frank to the antisemitic mob as exactly the sort of lustful Jew who some twenty years later figured so prominently in Nazi propaganda.
The state of Georgia posthumously pardoned Frank in 1986 on the evidence of a witness who took seventy years to come forward with his testimony. The [End Page 55] eventual pardon of Frank turned on the testimony of Alonzo Mann, who had been an office boy at the pencil factory and had seen Jim Conley carrying Mary Phagan’s body. Threatened by Conley, young, and terrified, Mann did not fully testify until a reporter from the Nashville based newspaper, The Tennessean, some seventy years later, broke the story (Frey 1988, 150). When the possible pardon (which took three more years to complete, after being rejected initially) of Leo Frank was announced in 1983, the KKK marched in robes through Marietta (Mary Phagan’s hometown—remember that the original mob that lynched Frank dubbed themselves the “Knights of Mary Phagan” [Frey 1988, 152]). The official wording of the pardon from 11 March 1986 includes, “The lynching aborted the legal process, thus foreclosing further efforts to prove Frank’s innocence. It resulted from the State of Georgia’s failure to protect Frank. Compounding the injustice, the State then failed to prosecute any of the lynchers” (Frey 1988, 156). Historians widely agree that the Knights of Mary Phagan became the resurgent Ku Klux Klan who would go on to terrorize and lynch numerous people, almost all Black, many innocent, mostly all men. The KKK started its rise to terrifying prominence among white supremacists with the lynching of Leo Frank.
As Ashraf Rushdy reports, the term “lynching” came about in the late 1700s when one Charles Lynch hung, without trial, a Loyalist supporter of the British and then began arguing for dispatching the enemy extra-judicially in this way. What Rushdy calls the “age of lynching” took place between 1890 and 1930 and was characterized not solely by an actual uptick in the numbers of victims, but also by a culture of lynching, a “folk pornography” of the drama of lynching as re-told in lurid detail in countless newspapers, or, what Charles Chestnutt punningly termed, “noospapers.”16 The deep and troubling irony of the Frank case turns on the fact that his innocence means a Black man is likely guilty of murdering a thirteen-year-old white girl. This is of course the exact kind of mostly imagined crime that stoked the lynching of vast numbers of Black men—that many of those men were completely innocent is beyond doubt. Because of the gruesome details, the Frank case was all over the news—not just in Georgia but nationally. An American Dreyfus (as Dinnerstein dubs him), the Frank story was covered both truthfully and in terms of what we now call “fake news.” An article by Ingrid Anderson in The Conversation discusses the Frank case and fake news perpetrated by the likes of William Randolph Hearst in his Atlanta Georgian. Hearst ultimately ended up vehemently defending Frank and even writing an impassioned letter to the governor of Georgia, John Slaton, on his behalf.17 Other titans of the media such as Adolph Ochs took an interest in the case and defended Frank in print.18 An historian of Georgia remarked in 1917 that “the Frank case acquired an international vogue. . . . To rescue Frank from the clutches of the law it is said that an organization existed among the Jews, reaching from ocean to ocean, the object of which was to put a continent under tribute in an effort to raise a pyramidal [End Page 56] fund, with which to buy Frank’s way to freedom” (Knight, 1122–23). Knight here conjures a kind of international Jewish conspiracy to free Frank which has unmistakable antisemitic overtones.
After Frank’s conviction (his case was reviewed and denied no less than 13 times), his last remaining hope was an appeal to the Supreme Court. Jewish communities in the North put a huge amount of pressure on the governor to open up the case. Thomas E. Watson and other Southern populists and politicians were appalled that the North—and of course, especially—that Northern Jews—could influence what happens in Georgia. The publisher of The Tennessean, John Singleton, was a Tennessee hero, a campaigner for civil rights, and brave to take up the story of Leo Frank some seventy years after it closed so brutally. There was resistance to re-opening news of a case that could have excited yet more antisemitism. Singleton decided to publish Alonzo Mann’s full statement and devote an entire special issue to Frank.19 In the testimonial, Mann claims that he saw Jim Conley carrying Mary Phagan (who was either unconscious or dead) on Confederate Memorial Day, April 26, 1913. Spotting him witnessing the immediate aftermath of the crime, Conley threatened to kill Mann if he breathed a word of what he had seen. The same age as Phagan, thirteen, and scared out of his wits, Mann went home and relayed to his mother the terrifying spectacle he had encountered. She ordered him to remain silent lest he be implicated in the crime. At eighty-three, with a bad heart, a great deal of religious belief, and a desire finally to publicize his secret, Mann came forward to two reporters for The Tennessean—Jerry Thompson and Robert Sherbourne—and issued a long statement. “Many times,” he says, “I have thought since all this occurred almost 70 years ago that if I had hollered or yelled for help when I ran into Conley with the girl in his arms that day I might have saved her life. I might have. On the other hand, I might have lost my own life. If I had told what I saw that day I might have saved Leo Frank’s life” (1982, 9). The roots of the resurgent KKK, then, were fueled by antisemitism as much as by racism. The rise of the KKK, the decimation of the entrenched, well-connected, and assimilated Jewish milieu of Atlanta, and even the lynching of Frank, can all be seen to have been catalyzed by a widely read and ardently circulated diatribe that Thomas E. Watson published in 1915.
An early biographer referred to him as a “strange and most ingenuous figure” and Watson (1856–1922) remained a major player in the life of Georgia for many years.20 A criminal lawyer, he was in the Georgia House of Representatives and then ran for president on a populist ticket in 1904 and 1908. His journals, The Jeffersonian and Watson’s Magazine, were very popular in Georgia and, as a testament to his importance for historians and other researchers, his voluminous papers have recently been digitized.21 Ironically, given the role his racist and antisemitic diatribe played in the lynching of Leo Frank, Watson, in 1892, gained support from many newly minted Black voters due to his “condemnation of lynching and his protection of a black supporter from a lynch mob.”22 Watson’s racism [End Page 57] and antisemitism grew greatly as he aged. Indeed, “during his 1908 presidential bid Watson ran as a white supremacist and launched vehement diatribes in his magazine and newspaper against blacks.”23 Like the fictional populist, antisemitic President Lindbergh in The Plot Against America, Watson opposed American involvement in world war—in his case World War I.
The key August 1915 essay by Watson appeared in his own Watson’s Magazine and uses rhetoric indicating the firm alignment of racist and antisemitic discourse at the time of Frank’s lynching. Watson was hell-bent on stopping the governor from reopening the case despite the mounting evidence of Frank’s innocence; the diatribe was designed to do this and to halt the intrusion of these “Northern Jews” into the Georgian judicial system. As Watson himself reports, the Frank case caused a huge hue and cry, with thousands of letters streaming into Slaton’s office and petitions signed by numerous signatories sent South. Throughout the long feature, Watson, who clearly believes in Frank’s guilt, refers to the witnesses as white (often italicized) presumably to differentiate from Frank’s Jewishness and therefore cast him as non-white. Interestingly, though, Watson remains inconsistent within the essay since he terms Frank “white” especially in regards to Jim Conley in supposedly conspiratorial conversation with Frank. The whiteness of Jews was still in flux in 1915 and Watson’s perhaps accidental slippage between dubbing Frank white and non-white reflects this flux.24 In discussing a particular detail of the case, Watson notes, “the Jew was talking in a secretive, confidential manner with the negro, on the sidewalk, where he thought he was unobserved—and this negro has been his trusty for two years! This is the same negro upon whom such a torrent of vituperation was afterwards poured, when it became necessary to find a scapegoat for Leo Frank” (1915, 187). While Watson creates a conspiracy between the Jewish and the Black man (Conley)—they are supposedly speaking “secretively”—and then he charges the press with racism (the same racism that he perpetuates), there is also a sense of the balance of guilt shifting between the two of them, almost without any apparent connection to actual guilt but rather to their positions as variable “scapegoats.” This magazine article is widely believed to have contributed to stirring up the mob that dragged Frank out of jail and lynched him.25 To give a sense of how whiteness and purity indelibly link for white supremacists such as Watson, consider this noxious slice of the essay: “Unless we are ready to believe that this pretty little white girl . . . was more filthy in her personal habits than the commonest wench, you will reject with disgust the contention of Governor Slaton, that the blood stains came from her monthly sickness” (1915, 190, my ellipses). Watson terms Mary the “pretty little white girl” and connects this whiteness with what he assumes would be her cleanliness and purity thus gendering and racing those who accosted her by implicit contrast.
As he froths and foams and attains the level of hysteria that ended up contributing to mob violence, Watson continues that the hair found on a machinist’s machine near Frank’s office belonged to Phagan. That is the only explanation, [End Page 58] according to Watson, as to why no one else has claimed the hair—the person from whose head it came is dead: “Dead in her tender youth, in the flower of her maid-enhood, in her glory of virginal purity—dead as your little girls may be, someday, if other Leo Franks escape just punishment, through the machinations of Big Money” (1915, 196, italics in original). Watson’s fear-mongering is not unlike that Trump used in advocating for a wall at the US/Mexico border while he held the US government hostage through a lengthy shutdown. Watson’s fear-mongering also recalls Trump’s characterization of Mexican immigrants as “rapists.” In generating fear of the release of sexually predatory Jews, Watson also references Big Money, an antisemitic attack against the supposed controllers of the case that resonates with the falsehoods about the Jewish philanthropist and Holocaust survivor George Soros funding immigrants.26
Watson, continuing his rant, suggests, “If, in Mary’s uplifted, horrified, frantically opposing little hands, there had been found some hair, from the head of the simian Jew who was assaulting and killing her, the evidence wouldn’t be a bit stronger” (ibid). Note here that Watson uses the word “simian” to refer to Frank, a merging of anti-Black and antisemitic tropes that would find distinct echo about twenty years later in Nazi propaganda. The word “simian,” channeling apes and monkeys is more typically used in anti-Black racist harangues but Watson’s use of the word here indicates that the slippage between these two kinds of hatred was already firmly in place.27 Indeed, Conley was described in 1929 as “three jumps out of the jungle . . . a slant-headed Ethiopian ape,”28 thus echoing Watson’s use of “simian” to describe Frank.
Because the trope of the degenerate Jew had already been established within the antisemitic rhetoric of the time, it was crucial to the prosecution and to Watson’s rabble-rousing that Conley be cast as “manly” and Frank as a sodomite. Watson speculates that, “Robust animals, like Conley, do not commit the crime of Sodom: that is the vice of the degenerate, and Leo Frank’s face looks the part to perfection!” (1915, 219, italics in original). Witnesses allegedly spied through a keyhole Frank sodomizing a different factory girl. Later reevaluations of the case never confirmed this. Just as Conley had to be depicted as “manly,” he was “animal” yet he was also structured as “local” as opposed to Frank’s supposed foreignness (Brooklyn being a foreign country to Watson). As part of Conley’s “local” portrait, it was assumed (wrongly) by Frank’s lawyers that the testimony of a Black person would not be taken seriously. Watson confirms this racist assumption when, in summing up the arguments against other states’ intervention on behalf of the Frank case, Watson notices that “no Southern jury has ever convicted a white man on the sole evidence of a negro” (1915, 223). In other words, according to Watson, there must have been evidence beyond Conley’s statement in order to convince a white jury to convict Frank.
Southern US racial beliefs in 1913–1915 could not accept that the testimony of a Black man who, it appears, was guilty of the crime during a time when most of the [End Page 59] Black men who were lynched were innocent, would be believed. But the antisemitic discourse around the “anxious” “degenerate” even “simian” Frank overturned this racist logic. Thus in this case, “the Jew” was another, alien term inserted into the black/white binary that ruled Southern racism. While, obviously, the overwhelming majority of people who were lynched in the United States were Black, this one counterexample of a white Jew lynched for a crime he did not commit has galvanized a great deal of fantasizing and speculation. The Frank case remains very much alive in the many white supremacist websites that populate the internet thus further reminding us of the close link in contemporary and resurgent white supremacist logic between Blackness and Jewishness.29 In contrast to this, there is currently an effort afoot to exonerate Frank completely (see Schechter 2019). In the more than one hundred years since the Frank case exploded, the asymmetries as well as symmetries between Blacks and Jews in the United States have shifted multiple times. This case highlights the shared precarity of Blacks and Jews at the same time as it functions as a reminder that lynching has far more often been directed against Black men. On 26 April 2018, in Montgomery, Alabama, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice—the first memorial to the thousands of Blacks lynched—opened. That this happened long after the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum launched in 1993 and two years after the National Museum of African American History and Culture was unveiled highlights the persistent unevenness of political recognition.
Watson’s revolting text furnishes a perfect example of how racism and antisemitism were often played against each other in counterintuitive and perhaps even surprising ways in the United States—ways that would appear again in Nazi ideology. In Hitler’s American Model, James Whitman demonstrates the reliance of the forgers of Nazi ideology on American segregationist policies. The US eugenics movement strongly influenced Nazi policies.30 While eugenics did not lead to genocide in the United States in the 1930s, Hitler, Whitman argues, learned from the earlier genocide of Native Americans and, in 1928, praised the American empire and its successful capturing of Lebensraum during colonization (2017, 9). Whitman finds that “many Nazis, including not least Hitler himself, took a serious interest in the racist legislation of the United States” (2). Arguing that, when casting about the world for a model of racist anti-miscegenation laws, the creators of the Nuremberg laws found no better model than the United States (2017, 12), Whitman also points out that most other historians did not focus on this massive influence of American racism on Nazi racism and antisemitism because many Nazi ideologues found fault with much in US culture.
Most historians, in contrast with Whitman’s view, find, as does jazz historian Michael Kater, that “Hitler and Goebbels above all despised the Americans for [End Page 60] the relatively large degree of tolerance they extended to the racial minorities that were being expunged from the German Volksgemeinschaft” (1992, 30). Jazz offers a particularly interesting case here because, indeed, it was denigrated as “degenerate” and as part of American racial and aesthetic mixing. Nazi ideology deems Jazz a corrupt musical form that encourages chaos and refuses any neat historical lineage. It is also, following this logic, both Black and Jewish. Many anti-American Nazi Propaganda films and images testify to the linkage between Blackness and Jewishness in Nazi ideology. For example, one short film entitled, “Rund um die Freiheisstatue—Ein Spaziergang durch die USA” (Around the Statue of Liberty— A Walk Across the USA), renders swing degenerate. The narrator uses the n-word to describe the dancers and musicians and we also see “weiße Menschen” (white people) engage in swing. The negative effects of thus degenerating themselves with Black music are shown as the dancers pass out from the effort! The same propaganda film decries “Degenerate” art thus underscoring the shared animosity on the part of Nazi propaganda against certain kinds of visual arts and music.31
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In the Nazi propaganda image above (fig. 3), the conflation of Blackness and Jewishness and the rendering of both as “degenerate” comes to the foreground. No diegetic rationale for including a Jewish star on the label of a Black saxophonist painted with the signature racist trait of exaggerated lips is offered. Historically, there were connections between Jewish composers such as George Gershwin and Black performers—Gershwin insisted that his Porgy and Bess, for example, be performed only by Black opera singers. And many jazz musicians and producers were Jewish. But the propaganda imagines an immediate connection, without any explanation—this is to be expected of propaganda but this image compels because the viewer is meant to make intuitive sense of the Jewificiation of this musician through the symbol of the star.32
In the Nazi propaganda poster below (fig. 4), a mask with resonance to an “African” mask is rendered Jew-ish through the importation of a huge nose. A shadow image with an antisemitic portrait renders a Jewish face with big lips akin to those in anti-Black racist propaganda. Like the previous image, here Blackness and Jewishness are brought into implicit cohabitation without any logic [End Page 62] apart from that of Nazi ideology that found both “degenerate.” Neil Levi would call this Judaization or Jewification and it is a way of explaining how an abstract notion of Jewishness could crop up in seemingly disparate places. Indeed, Nazi ideology brought together inchoate strands: Jews were simultaneously derided as both capitalists and communists, manly beasts overtaking Aryan women and hopelessly effeminate, America was both a model for segregationist policies and too integrated.
When we think of the victims of the Nazi persecution of “Entartete Kunst” we generally think of the famous white and/or Jewish artists whose works were included in the exhibitions of that name in Germany starting in 1937 that showcased the supposed evils of this art. In fact, the long lines of visitors were mixed in their views with many preferring “degenerate” art to the awful but supposedly pure Aryan art espoused by the Nazis. Much of this then debased art has subsequently become canonized as among the most essential modern art with figures such as Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Paul Klee, and many others now gracing the finest museums in the world. It was fascinating and a little jarring to see some of these pieces put back into the context through which they were supposedly shamed and shunned by Nazi aesthetics that preferred “German” art when the Neue Galerie in New York launched an extremely popular exhibit a few years ago. The “Degenerate Art” exhibition at the Neue Galerie situates these modern masterpieces in their prewar context.33 Indeed, newspaper stories about restitution cases and the discovery of looted art coupled with the film The Monuments Men (which opened in February 2014), along with the popular film Woman in Gold (2015) about Maria Altmann’s successful quest for restitution of Gustav Klimt’s magnificent portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (which hangs in the Neue Galerie) mean that there has been in recent years quite a lot of attention to aesthetics and Nazism.34
When Nazi propaganda then, and neo-Nazi rhetoric and actions now, conflate Blackness and Jewishness, paint a swastika over the faces of Black fighters for equality, or use antisemitic tropes in the name of upholding Confederate statues, these aesthetically and politically motivated hatreds implicitly call upon a long history of othering. In a 1917 chronicle of Georgia, Lucian Lamar Knight bemoaned the besmirching of a glorious remembrance of the Lost Cause with the murder of Phagan: “On this anniversary of a Lost Cause, when the state was honoring its Confederate heroes with memorial exercises, when the air was fragrant with garlands plucked by loyal and loving hands to lay upon the graves of the dead, and when everyone, in response to an instinct of patriotism, was thinking of tenderness of the past, there occurred in the heart of Atlanta a tragedy of the most revolting character” (1121).35 This caustic nostalgia for the slave-holding Old South, evidenced so clearly here, endures through to the protest at Charlottesville of the removal of a statue honoring one of these “Confederate heroes” so gooily described by Knight. [End Page 63]
Spike Lee’s film, BlacKkKlansman (2018), begins right here: with the Lost Cause. Sampling a scene from the nostalgic longing Lost Cause film par excellence, Gone with the Wind, Lee begins with Scarlett’s desperate search among the “fallen heroes” of the Old South for Dr. Meade. The scene is set in, of all places, Atlanta, coming full circle back to Confederate Memorial Day, 1913. As the 1939 camera tilts up, we see in the corner of the frame the Confederate Flag blowing gently in the breeze over the fallen heroes, and then Lee cuts to a white supremacist lecture, in front of a huge image of the same Confederate flag. The speaker, Kennebrew Beauregard (played brilliantly by Alec Baldwin, who performs the best Trump mock-up, ever, on SNL, thus yoking this white supremacist with the current president) decries the threat of miscegenation, and goes on to complain that the Brown decision was “forced upon us by the Jewish controlled puppets on the U.S. supreme court” (Lee 2018, 2:06). Lee, then, immediately demonstrates the deep connections between antisemitism and anti-Black racism; throughout the film, the former is always just one hairsbreadth away from the latter. As Beauregard continues his anxiety about the “mongrel race,” Birth of a Nation (1915) plays behind him as he foams and fear-mongers about school desegregation and asks if one really wants rapists and murderers craving the “Virgin pure flesh of white women” (he here uses the same rhetoric, even the same words, as Watson). “Blood-sucking Jews,” Beauregard continues, employ an army of “outside Northern black beast agitators” to overthrow the white race. “It’s an international Jewish conspiracy” (Lee 2018, 4:00). The Jewish character in the film, Philip “Flip” Zimmerman, confronts his Jewishness only when forced to by the antisemites who want get into his pants and subject him to lie detector tests to determine the validity of his whiteness.
Lee never returns explicitly to Beauregard but we do see the two central characters, in order to impress the KKK, evoking familiar racist tropes and returning to the rhetoric of white pure virgins raped by Black beasts. Lee based the film on a memoir of the same name by Ron Stallworth, a Black cop who, using a white (non-Jewish) associate as a stand-in, infiltrated an underground KKK chapter in Colorado Springs and struck up a long phone correspondence with David Duke who does not know until the conclusion that his interlocutor is Black. A major character in the film, former Grand Wizard of the KKK, former populist presidential candidate, David Duke, who endorsed Trump for president, was at Charlottesville, espousing his white supremacist views. During the induction into the KKK of the fake white Ron Stallworth, the fictional Duke gives a speech in which he recites his mantra, “America First!, America First!, America First!” exactly as does the fictional Lindbergh in The Plot Against America. After the induction, all the Klansmen and women join in a joyful viewing of Birth of a Nation and we hear the echo of the blood-thirsty cries we had heard but not seen while the film played behind Beauregard. Lee includes footage of Charlottesville at the end of the film thus visually underscoring the long line from the Lost Cause to the KKK then [End Page 64] to the KKK now with Duke visually representing the ideological through-line.36 The era in the KKK depicted in BlacKkKlansman would have been a few years before the organization, in robes, marched in Marietta, GA in 1983 to protest the pardon of Frank. During the Charlottesville footage that Lee includes, Duke says, “I believe that today, in Charlottesville, this is a first step toward the realization of something Trump alluded to early in the campaign which is—this is the step toward taking America back” (2018, 2:07). Throughout Lee’s film the suggestion of placing in the White House a populist white supremacist president is met with disbelief by the central character. But Lee makes painfully clear that, not only can it happen here, but, folks, it did happen here.
brett ashley kaplan is Director of the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies and Professor in the Program in Comparative and World Literature at the University of Illinois. She is the author of Unwanted Beauty: Aesthetic Pleasure in Holocaust Representation (University of Illinois Press, 2007), Landscapes of Holocaust Postmemory (Routledge, 2011), and Jewish Anxiety in the Novels of Philip Roth (Bloomsbury, 2015). She is at work on two books: Convergences: Blackness and Jewishness in Contemporary Literature, Visual, and Performance Arts and Rare Stuff (a novel). She has also written for The Conversation, Asitoughttobe, AJS Perspectives, and Haaretz.
1. See Ha’aretz 2018; for a long list of white supremacist events in recent memory and how badly law enforcement recognized domestic white supremacists as a terrorist threat see the excellent article by Reitman; the paper version of the article, not included online, has a cover whose list of white supremacist rallies or attacks takes an entire page.
6. See Southern Poverty Law Center n.d.; Adam Shatz finds resonance between Trump’s rallies—recall the chant, “Lock her up!” in the context of Hillary Clinton, and lynchings and notes, “That’s why Trump’s rallies—like the lynchings they resemble, though the murder is only rhetorical—are such joyous affairs, as full of laughter as they are of fury.”
8. I am most grateful to Deb Shostak for helping me to find this quote!
10. For a turn to the Frank case in the context of the rise of antisemitism, see Wisse 2019.
11. For some of the readings of Plot, see Adams 2014, Boese 2014, Brauner 2007, Cooper 2005, Kaplan 2015, Kauvar 2011, Parrish 2011, Pozorski 2011, Schweber 2015, Shostak 2016, Stow 2017, and Wirth-Nesher 2007. There are many more excellent articles, essays and reviews—this is just a sampling.
12. Anticipating the title of Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel (cited by Roth in Plot) It Can’t Happen Here, Carl Sandburg notes, “When a crowd of people go crazy and want to hang a man on little or no evidence . . . we don’t like it. This story is about things that happened in Atlanta. Yet it has a straight connection to Chicago. What happened in Atlanta can happen in Chicago” (2015, 398).
14. The following synopsis of the Frank case is drawn from Frey and Thompson-Frey 1988; Ritter, Thompson, and Sherborne 1982; Roberts 1982; Loeterman 2010; for more on the Frank case see Azoulay 1997; Berson 1991; Golden 1965; Dinnerstein 1968; Melnick 2000; Oney 2003; Weisgord and Stein 1970.
16. Rushdy cites Jacquelyn Dowd Hall’s phrase “folk pornography” and Chestnutt’s “noospapers” (from Hall’s Revolt Against Chivalry and Chestnutt’s “A Deep Sleeper” in The Conjure Woman and Other Conjure Tales).
19. I am immensely grateful to Mariah Timms, breaking news reporter at The Tennessean, for sending me the entire special issue, unavailable in our university library, at about 10 p.m. when I phoned their offices!
27. Watson 1915 further contends that, “THE JEWS FIRST ACCUSED FRANK” (208). “Thus the martyr of race hatred flings the meshes of suspicion around two innocent men, before he himself has been suspect by anybody, excepting the rich Jews who had swiftly, stealthily employed for the martyr the supposedly ablest lawyers in Georgia” (209).
31. USHMM archives, “Rund um die Freiheisstatue—Ein Spaziergang durch die USA 1992.258.1 RG-60.0782; Film ID 317.
36. I am planning a chapter on BlacKkKlansman in the nascent book I am working on, Convergences: Jewishness and Blackness in Contemporary Performance and Visual Arts. The book places the contemporary creative work of many artists from diverse disciplines in dialogue with the findings of historians and other scholars who have described the history of the interchange between the two groups.