KKK

January 14, 1915 Washington Times ad about Leo Frank.

The Leo Frank Case

Have you ever heard of Leo Frank? His case, a lesser known piece of American history, had tremendous long-lasting impact on the nation -- leading to the creation of the Anti-Defamation League and reviving the Ku Klux Klan. There’s also a Washington, D.C. connection.

In 1913, Leo Frank, a young Jewish man originally from New York, was accused of murdering Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old girl who worked in the Atlanta pencil factory he managed. After a month-long trial, with prejudice heavy in the air, Frank was convicted and sentenced to death. Due to the judge’s fear of mob violence, Frank and his family were not in the courtroom when the verdict was announced.

The Klan Leaves Its Mark on Washington's Airwaves

Membership in the Ku Klux Klan spiked in the 1920s as evidenced by the thousands of marchers at the KKK's 1925 rally in Washington. (Photo source: Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

It was the roaring '20s and radio was taking off. Americans were tuning-in in droves for news, opera, popular music and sports. No other medium offered the ability to reach so many people instantaneously. Advertisers took note.

So, too, did the resurgent Ku Klux Klan, which was interested in its own sort of advertising: promoting a unique brand of “patriotism” founded upon white privilege and intolerance for blacks, Catholics, Jews and immigrants amongst others. The Klan's foray into broadcasting is still felt in Washington to this day.

"Wake-up alarm to the nation"

Though he was the grandson of a Klansman, Bob Zellner realized at a young age that he didn’t agree with segregation. As a young man, he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and became the first white southerner to be a SNCC Field Secretary. In a time of high tensions, particularly in the Deep South, Zellner and his wife Dorothy held their ground as supporters of black freedom and desegregation. They traveled from Danville, Virginia for the March on Washington. Years later, Zellner remembered the experience.