Former ADL chief cites historical inaccuracies of ‘Parade’

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By Donald H. Harrison

Morris Casuto

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO –The former regional director of the Anti-Defamation League gives Parade, the musical about the lynching of Leo Frank in Georgia, generally high marks for portraying how anti-Semitism can poison the justice system, although he said there were a number of historical inaccuracies that are perhaps to be expected in a dramatization.

Morris Casuto, who had served for 33 years as ADL’s regional director in San Diego prior to his retirement in 2010, said the play presented by the Cygnet Theatre doesn’t make clear that between the murder of Mary Phagan in 1913  and Frank’s lynching in 1915, there were three appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court and two to the U.S. Supreme Court, all of which were denied.   Nor did the play accurately portray the fact that Frank had three defense lawyers, not simply an acquiescent “good ol’ boy” lawyer whom the play depicted as sitting idly by during most of the trial, Casuto said.

The Leo Frank case propelled the growth of the Anti-Defamation League as bigotry against Jews swelled to alarming proportions during his trial for the murder of Phagan, a Christian teenager who worked in an Atlanta pencil factory where he was the general manager.  Today, most people believe that an African-American employee in the factory, who testified against Frank during the trial, was the actual murderer.

The case  encouraged the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, which equally despised both Blacks and Jews.  Rabble-rousing and demonstrations were common occurrences during the trial.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing a dissent from the decision to turn down an appeal,  said of Frank’s conviction for the murder: “Mob law does not become due process by securing the assent of a terrorized jury.”

Casuto said he was disappointed the play did not mention the fact that Frank was posthumously pardoned in 1986, nor did it play up the “heroism” of Gov. John Marshall Slaton, who commuted Frank’s sentence from death to life imprisonment.  Casuto also expressed disappointment that it was not made clear that officials at the prison from which Frank was abducted and taken to his lynching offered no resistance to the lynch mob.

Although he was put off by some of the omissions and inaccuracies in the play, Casuto said he nevertheless found Parade  “impactful.”  Furthermore he said he was gratified that in the audience on Thursday evening, March 22, were many non-Jews who were interested in the case.

“Generally, I thought the play did a really credible job,” said Casuto.  “Sometimes, however, it seemed out of place to be singing songs about something that grave.”  And at 2 1/2-hours long, he said, the play is in need of some serious cutting

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Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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