/ The Atlanta Traveler
Atlanta — By Linda Erbele on January 15, 2010 at 11:35 am
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Parade portrays painful Georgia history

Blackwell Playhouse, a small community theater group in Marietta has opened the year with Parade, a Tony award winning musical that portrays the 1913 murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan and the lynching of Leo Frank, manager at the factory where she worked, which took place just a few miles from the theater.

photoIt was a tumultuous time in Georgia politics and the actors illustrate it well. Emotion about the murder and conviction ran high in the state — the story and fabrications about it sold a lot of newspapers, made several political careers and ruined one. It became a national issue and was a part of the atmosphere that led to the formation of the Anti-Defamation League. It also led to the re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan.

Frank was Jewish, a Yankee and a rather nervous young man. Those attributes alone made him suspicious, and resulted in his arrest. Jim Conley, a man who worked in the basement, testified against him and Frank was convicted and sentenced to die. Georgia’s Governor John Slaton was asked to intervene and based on his research, took the courageous stand of commuting Frank’s sentence from death to life in prison. An uproar ensued. A group of men broke Frank out of prison, drove him to Marietta and hung him. Although Slaton had a few more months in his term as governor, he and his wife were forced to flee the state for their safety.

No one was ever arrested for the lynching. Although its been nearly a century, the case still stirs controversy. Frank was pardoned by the state of Georgia in 1986. The pardon had been denied just three years earlier. Some descendants of the lynch party still live here.

Alfred Uhry, playwright of Driving Miss Daisy and an Atlanta native, is the author of Parade. Parts of the play take place on Confederate Memorial Day (there was always a parade) – the day that Mary Phagan was killed.

“The playhouse can’t just entertain, we have to also put on shows that make people think, and that educates as well,” says Artistic Director John Christian.

I saw it Sunday, and it’s really a great show. It runs Saturday nights at 8pm  and Sundays at 3pm through the 24th of January. Blackwell Playhouse is in Marietta (see map.) Tickets are $20 and $18 for students & seniors. To get tickets call 678-213-3311.

(Photo courtesy Blackwell Playhouse. Used with permission.)

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