Steve Oney papers
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Steve Oney papers

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Georgia Historical Society
Creator: Oney, Steve, 1954-
Title: Steve Oney papers
Dates: 1896-2009
Extent: 25.1 cubic feet (25 boxes, 2 oversize folders)
Identification: MS 2361

Biographical/Historical Note

Steve Oney was born in 1954 and attended the University of Georgia and Harvard University, where he was a Nieman Fellow. He worked for many years as a staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Magazine. He has also contributed articles to many national publications. In 2003 he published And the Dead Shall Rise, a non-fiction accounting of the murder of Mary Phagan and the lynching of Leo Frank.

And the Dead Shall Rise won the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award for best work on the nation’s legal system, the National Jewish Book Award for history, the Southern Book Critics Circle Prize for best nonfiction book about the South, and the Georgia Historical Society’s Malcolm and Muriel Barrrow Bell Award. Oney’s journalism has been frequently anthologized, appearing in such collections as The Best American Magazine Writing 2008, The Best American Sports Writing 2006, and Southern Cultures, the Fifteenth Anniversary Reader.

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains the publications, correspondence, preparatory notes, and outlines of author and journalist Steve Oney, dating from 1896-2009. Also included in the collection are photographs, posters, and audiovisual material. Additionally there are two copies of the script for The People v. Leo Frank, a documentary film on which Oney collaborated. The bulk of the collection relates to his book And the Dead Shall Rise, published in 2003, about the trial and lynching of Leo M. Frank, a Northern-born Jewish man residing in Atlanta, Georgia in the first half of the 20th century. In 1913, Mary Phagan, a 13 year old employee of the National Pencil Company, was found murdered in the basement of the factory. Frank, superintendent of the same company and last known person to see Phagan alive, was accused and convicted of her murder in 1913 and sentenced to death by hanging on August 26, 1913. Frank’s conviction rested predominately on Jim Conley, the factory’s janitor and African-American. At this time in the south, the conviction of a white man on the testimony of a black man was nearly unheard of. Between 1913 and 1915 several appeals were unsuccessfully attempted and on June 21, 1915, Frank’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison by Georgia Governor John M. Slaton. Later that year, on August 17th, Frank was lynched in Frey's Gin, two miles east of Marietta, Georgia, by a group of vigilantes. The aftermath of the lynching lead to approximately half of the Jewish population of Georgia to leave the state. Frank’s 1913 arrest and trial resulted in the founding of the Anti-Defamation League. After multiple failed attempts for Frank to be granted a posthumous pardon, the Anti-Defamation League convinced the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles to issue a pardon on March 11, 1986. The case of Leo Frank and the murder of Mary Phagan has been dramatized into a Broadway musical, Parade, and in 2009 the PBS production by Ben Loeterman, The People v. Leo Frank premiered. Oney contributed his files for the production’s research.

The collection also contains the published newspaper and magazine work of Steve Oney from 1978 to 2009. Publications include Time Magazine, Los Angeles magazine, Playboy, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Weekly, Esquire, GQ, Angeleno Magazine, and The Anderson Independent.


This collection is arranged into 25 boxes and 2 oversize folders:

Box 1: Case study of Frank case murder notes by Henry Alexander, 1914; Oney correspondence with Robert Penn Warren, 1979-1982; Oney published articles, 1976-2010; correspondence with Ben Loeterman and The People v. Leo Frank scripts, 1997-2008; And the Dead Shall Rise publication correspondence, 2003-2004; photographs related to Leo Frank case and William Smith death note; Correspondence and newspaper clippings regarding the trial, conviction, attempted exoneration, lynching and posthumous pardon of Leo Frank.

Box 2: ATDSR edits chapters 1-10, notes chapters 1, 7, 13, first drafts chapters 11, 16, 18, 23, 24; copy Reuben Arnold address seeking new trial; 1991 Bill Kinney interview notes; Research done at UGA library notes; research on Atlanta Masons 1915-1996; Duplicate newspaper/magazine copies, Lucille Frank letters to Leo Frank, 1913-1915; Files on Arthur Powell 1943; The Old Religion by David Mamet manuscript, 1996; Clippings 1978 Atlanta Constitution series; Newspaper copies on cotton and James Beavers, 1914-1915; Forensic evidence file; Religion at time of Frank case; copy Burton Roscoe 1947 pamphlet; Murder Casebook 1990.

Box3: Chapters 18 and 20 outlines; Atlanta and New York newspaper clippings, 1915; ATDSR chapters 11-24 edits by Dan Frank/Pantheon; ATDSR final draft of end notes; ATDSR first draft of bibliography notes; Dan Frank correspondence 2003; revised chapter 1, 2003; correspondence, receipts, records for obtaining photos and illustrations 2002-2003, bulk 2002; newspaper clippings on GA prison commission and commutation hearing/Gov. Slaton 1913-1915.

Box 4: Laminated copy March 7 1982 The Tennessean, May 1935 Official Detective Stories; photograph alleged leaders of Georgia Ku Klux Klan, undated; December 18, 1949 The Atlantic Journal; folder on the application for a posthumous pardon of Leo Frank, 1982-1983; copies May 10 1955 and June 21 1955 John Wood US Senate confirmation hearing transcripts, 1987 interviews with Walter and Jean Smith son/daughter-in-law of William Smith; May 1913 Pinkerton Detective Agency investigation reports; August 1915 Tom Watson’s Magazine; Second drafts ATDSR chapters 1-2, 18-24; ATDSR chapters 1-5 end notes, ATDSR 2001-2002 edits; Copy The Skies Were Not Cloudy All Day by Denny Redman, Oney notes 1991; Winter 2005 Jewish Book World.

Box 5: Files covering life and work of lawyer William Smith, who represented Jim Conley, main witness against Leo Frank- newspaper clippings 1900, 1912-1915, notes 1986-1998; also files devoted to Conley’s life; files about Atlanta, Jews in the South 1910-1919 and beginning of the case; Leo and Lucille Frank letters 1909; Journalism in Georgia 1897-1916; Atlanta Police Department 1900-1915, 1961; Mary Phagan Murder Investigation May 1913.

Box 6: Files on the later years of Jim Conley 1941-1953; file on the years Lucille Frank lived alone in Atlanta 1915-1925; files about the sons and daughters of the principals taking up sides during the posthumous pardon hearings of the 1980s; Notes for ATDSR chapter 23; later years of William Smith and children, 1987; Georgia State Garden Farm, 1915; Hugh M. Dorsey 1921-1954; obituaries of major players in Frank case; Posthumous pardon application/documents 1983-1987.

Box 7: Files on Conley and Smith; files containing newspaper coverage pertaining to early days of investigation May-July 1913; Documents/clippings on verdict and prosecution/defense persons in Frank case 1913; Notes/outlines for ATDSR chapter 12.

Box 8: Oney notes on newspaper coverage of early parts of Frank trial and sequences of witnesses, undated, content from 1913; ATDSR chapter outlines on early court appeals, undated; interviews with Franklin Garrett, 1986; transcript of WGST radio show on Frank case 1983, documents from the Anti-Defamation League’s files on the case, 1978-1985.

Box 9: New York Times, Atlanta Journal coverage of Frank case, 1914; Hiring of Burns agency, 1914; Notes/outlines ATDSR chapters 15, 16, 17, undated; Newspaper clippings/notes on Tom Watson, 1914.

Box 10: This entire box is devoted to Frank’s lynching, with files containing more on the planners, leaders and participants, 1915, coverage of the lynching in the press, 1915; lynching investigation, 1915; files devoted to older Marietta men and women who told Oney about the aftermath of the lynching, 1986-1996; a file on Governor Nat Harris, 1915-; files devoted to Tom Watson’s later life, 1915-.

Box 11: Files devoted to the beginning of the nationwide campaign to exonerate Frank and Governor John Slaton, newspaper clippings on same, 1913-1915; files on Tom Watson, 1915; clippings/notes on Governor Nathanial Harris, 1915; notes/newspaper clippings on Georgia State Prison Farm 1915; Cobb Country clippings, 1913-1915; Leo Frank correspondence, 1915; Lynching planners notes, undated; clippings 1913-1915.

Box 12: Posthumous pardon application for Leo Frank, 1983; Files on the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan; microfilm of The Jeffersonian, 1912-1914, The Atlanta Georgian, 1913-1915, and the Georgia Supreme Court file on the Frank case, 1913-; photographs (originals and reproductions, CD), 20th century; audio cassettes of interviews with McLellan Smith, a former Georgian reporter who covered the case, 1964, Carl and Myrtle Abernathy, 1973, relatives of Mary Phagan, and Harllee Branch, Sr., a former Journal reporter who covered the case, 1962; micro-cassettes of interviews with Eugene Clay (son of lynch party planner Herbert Clay) and Bill Kinney, associate editor of The Marietta Journal and nephew of a lynch party member, undated; micro-cassette of interview with Norman Elsas, former owner of the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill and a prominent Atlanta Jew, undated; Paperback copy of A Little Girl Is Dead by Harry Golden.

Box 13: ATDSR newspaper/magazine/online publicity and reviews: Time magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker, Los Angeles Times, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Atlanta Magazine, Flagpole, The New York Review of Books and other publications, 2003-2004; Tape cassette “Leo Frank – NPR” July 200; Beta cassette 30 min documentary on ATDSR, undated; VHS TBS piece on ATDSR 2005; Prizes won by ATDSR 2003-.

Box 14: Approx. half collected published works of Steve Oney, 1978-2009.

Box 15: Black marble paper file box (titled “Prejudice”) for 3 x 5 index cards containing topic notes for first sections of ATDSR and spiral notebook that is an index to the index cards, undated; topic outlines/first drafts for ATDSR chapters. 1,2,3,4,5,6,8,9,14,18,20,21,22.

Box 16: Green marble paper file box (titled “Enlightenment”) for 3 x 5 index cards containing topic notes for the last sections of ATDSR, undated; Working drafts ATDSR chapters1-10, undated; photographs submitted to Pantheon for consideration with index and source information, 2002; outlines/drafts ATDSR chapters 10,19,22.

Box 17: Green marble paper file box (titled “Leo Frank Trial”) for 3 x 5 index cards containing topic notes on trial of Leo Frank, undated; manuscript of A Biography of a Place, by Harry Crews, 1978; Topic outlines ATDSR chapters 6,17,23, undated; The Atlanta Georgian Old Police Reporter columns, 1913; Georgia State professor Cliff Kuhn’s notes on Atlanta politics during the early 20th century, 1990; Citations for sources regarding the identities of the people who lynched Leo Frank, circa 1988; ATDSR chapter 2 citations.

Box 18: Green marble paper file box (titled “Topics of Ongoing Debate and Relevance” for 3 x 5 cards containing topic notes on matters of continuing dispute and biographical sketches of book’s main characters, undated; First draft of September, 1985 article on the Frank case for Esquire; source citations ATDSR chapters 4,5,9, undated; first draft ATDSR chapter 12; NBC “Bible” for Jack Lemmon miniseries on Frank case, 1985; ATDSR pictures submitted to Pantheon, 2003; ATDSR publicity, 2003; Marshall Frady and Billy Graham correspondence, 1976-1978.

Box 19: Final typescript for ATDSR, March 2003; final typescripts ATDSR index and footnotes, proofreading notes; ATDSR pages from the edited manuscript, 2002; Dan Frank edits of ATDSR chapters 1-7, 17, 23, 2002-2003.

Box 20: Steve Oney published work, 1977-2009

Box 21: Typescripts of Annie Maude Carter notes, 1914; Frank further research files, 1986-2003; posthumous pardon application, circa1986; Atlanta zeitgeist, 1913; notes on 1913/1914 appeals; notes on Jews in Marietta, 2000; ATDSR notes chapter 15; Clark Freshman Beyond Pontius Pilate and Judge Lynch undergraduate thesis, 1986;Transcript of Jim Conley’s affidavits from the Georgia Supreme Court, 1913; Lucille Frank correspondence, 1915; chronology of events summer 1915; ATDSR first draft chapter 17; Three notebooks containing Esquire article on the Frank case research, 1986; Xerox copy of Watson’s Magazine, September 1913; documents, notes on Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill Strike, 1914; The Lynching of Leo Frank by Robert Meyers, 1997; Duplicate newspaper clippings on Frank trial, 1913-1915; copy of Leo Frank application for executive clemency, 1915; Notes on Walter Smith, 1987-1991; Folder of misc. Frank research 1914-1990.

Box 22: Georgia pamphlets, undated; Xerox Watson’s Magazine, August-October 1915; Clippings on Judge Roan, 1915; Letter writing campaign, 1915; Clippings on LMF commutation and lynching, 1915; Oney notes on New York Times coverage of Frank, 1915, Leo Frank Diary, 1915; Leo Frank Correspondence, 1915; History of Georgia’s National Guard, 1915-1922; Xerox Garrett Garrett’s diary, 1915; draft ATDSR chapters 1-10, 1994; Clippings on Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill Strike, 1914-1915; William Smith Appeals cases, 1908-1988; Leo Frank leaflets, 1914; Supreme Court files, 1914; Oney notes on Atlanta papers, 1988; ATDSR chapter 7 notes, 1990; Oney ATDSR thoughts and outlines, 1990.

Box 23: Predominately chronologically filed copies of newspaper clippings related to the Frank case from 1913.

Box 24: Copies of court, legal and prison documents, newspaper and magazine clippings and correspondence related to the Frank case, 193-1915.

Box 25: Photo of August 25, 1915 Jeffersonian front page; photos by Joe McTyre of period Atlanta Georgian front pages; 1990 notebook from the search in Atlanta’s Vine City for Jim Conley's relatives; handwritten footnotes for Chapters 1-5, And the Dead Shall Rise; DVDs of Murder In Harlem, They Won't Forget, Profiles in Courage, and The Murder of Mary Phagan – all Hollywood productions based on the Frank case; summer 2010 issue of the magazine Antiques, with story on Americana collectors; August 29, 1910 clipping of an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times; Oney's hand-drawn map of Marietta lynching sites, criticism of And the Dead Shall Rise manuscript and misc. newspaper articles; Harry Golden's notes on the founding of the Anti Defamation League; reaction of Georgia newspapers to the lynching file; 1987 Interviews with Judge Elbert Tuttle, federal jurist who desegregated Southern schools and knew many players in the Frank case, and Harllee Branch, Jr., son of Atlanta Journal reporter and president of the Georgia Power Company and NYT obits of both men; outside readings of And the Dead Shall Rise manuscript by Robert Coram and Russ Rymer; 1987 preliminary outline of And the Dead Shall Rise; outlines and typed drafts of chapter on the death of William Smith; Emory Oral History project on Atlanta Jews, correspondence resulting from Oney's 1990 Atlanta Journal and Constitution "Dixie Living" story about the search for Jim Conley; and Richard B. Russell file. Also included is correspondence dating 1986-1996 with the following: Amanda Ulm Abrams, Mary Lou Allen (daughter of lawyer William Smith), Mrs. Ivan Allen, Mrs. Winter Allfriend (a member of the Brumby family of Marietta and an aging contemporary of members of the Frank lynch party), Henry Alexander (University of Oregon philosophy professor and son of one of Frank’s lawyers), Miles Alexander, American Jewish Archives, James T. Anderson (Marietta car dealer), Joe T. Andrews, Thomas Arnold (son of Frank lawyer Reuben Arnold), Jim Auchmutey, Frederick Ballen, Dr. Louis Battey, Arthur Bentley, Sandy Berman, Henry Bowdon, Charles Brown, Tom Watson Brown, Bill Branch (grandson of Atlanta Journal reporter Harllee Branch), Herbert Buffington, Jack Goldsborough Burns, Olive Ann Burns, William Burns, II, Erskine Caldwell, Ed Cashin, David Chalmers, Eugene Clay (son of lynch party organizer Herbert Clay), Toy Conley, Bobby Lee Cook, Richard Cornulle, Dale Couch Dan Cox (director of Marietta History Museum), Mitchell Dolin, Hugh Dorsey, Jr., Anne Duggar of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Judge Daniel Duke, Clayton Farnham, Anne H. Flythe, Starkey Flythe, Roy Furchgott, James R. Gantt (son of early suspect in Phagan murder), Georgia Department of Human Resources, Georgia Vital Records Dept, Brendan Gill, Jim Glover, Jake Goldstein, Sonny Goldstein, Elmer Gould (acquaintance of Jim Conley), Dr. Helen Greene, Louis T. Griffith, Joseph Haas, Luther Hames, Linda Healey, Amy Heller of Milestone Films, Elmo Holt, Hill Huffman, Josh Hyatt, Hutch Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Lex Jolley (Marietta sources on the lynching), New York Times reporter Alex Jones, Boisfeuillet Jones (former head of Woodward foundation, son of Gov. Nat Harris’s executive secretary), Pauline Jones (elderly friend of the Phagan family), Lucille Kappes (daughter of lynch party associate Moultrie Sessions),George Keeler, Stetson Kennedy, Bobby Kinard (confidant of KKK grand dragon James Venable), Bill Kinney (associate editor, Marietta Daily Journal), Cliff Kuhn, writer Tom Kunkel, Susan Landrum, Congressman Phil Landrum, Bob Livolsier, Devereaux McClatchey, Elizabeth McLane, Joe McTyre, Jonathan Mahler, Alan Marcus (Lucille Frank’s nephew), Jacob R. Marcus (legendary founder of American Jewish Archives re his suspicion that Atlanta rabbi destroy records damaging to Frank), Jim Minter (former editor of Atlanta Journal and Constitution), Newt Morris, Jr. (son of lynch party organizer), Paul Morris (son of lynch party leader Black Newt Morris and nephew of planner Judge Newt Morris), Charlton Moseley, Levering Neely, Peter Nelson of Jefferson Medical College, Richard Nixon, Dr. Neal Perkinson (son of a prominent Marietta physician), Wallace Reid (son of filmmaker who made a 1915 documentary on the Frank case), Kathy Robbins, Anne Salter, Dr. Frank Saunders, Thomas A. Scott, Tom Shelton (grandson of Frank lawyer Luther Rosser), Dorothy Smith (a daughter of lynch party member Lawrence Haney and one of Oney's chief sources on the lynching), Mrs. Omar Smith (daughter of the warden of the Milledgeville Prison at the time of Frank’s lynching),Patterson Smith, Walter Smith, William Smith, Andrew Sparks, Herman Spence, Lucille Suhr (daughter of lynching planner Judge Newt Morris), Ken Thomas, Sharon Thomason, Susan Tifft, James Ulm (relative of Gov. John Slaton’s executive secretary), Lee Walburn, Judson Ward, Elaine Williams, Zaida Clay Wood, C. Vann Woodward, and Fannie Zelcer,

Folder OS 1: Oversize, color promotional poster for And the Dead Shall Rise.

Folder OS 2: Four full-scale photographic reproductions of newspaper front pages from 1913 and 1915 with banner, Frank-case headlines.

Index Terms

Anti-Defamation League.
Atlanta (Ga.)
Atlanta (Ga.) Police Department.
Clippings (information artifacts)
Documentary scripts.
Frank, Leo, 1884-1915.
Georgia State Prison Farm.
Letters (correspondence)
Marietta (Ga.)
Murder--Georgia--Atlanta--Case studies.
Oney, Steve, 1954-
Phagan, Mary.
Pinkerton's National Detective Agency.
Slaton, John M.
Trials (Murder)--Georgia--Atlanta--Case studies.
Watson, Thomas E., (Thomas Edward), 1856-1922.

Administrative Information

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Encoding funded by a 2008 Archives-Basic Projects grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.