Many university professors also cover the case when discussing social justice, race relations, and sensationalism in the media, among other topics. One such professor, Dr. Lauren Yarnell Bradshaw, who is an assistant professor of teacher education at the University of North Georgia, promotes inquiry in her Social Studies Methods class by inviting her students to analyze artifacts from the Leo Frank case.
“The thing that I want my students to understand is that we don’t want to replace one single narrative with another single narrative,” said Dr. Bradshaw. “You need to train them how to analyze their own artifacts and how to incorporate them into their understanding of history.”
While Dr. Bradshaw typically provides artifacts from the Frank case or directs her students where to find them, one student this past semester produced an artifact that neither Dr. Bradshaw nor any expert on Leo Frank had ever seen before: Warden J. E. Smith’s keys from the Milledgeville State Prison. These were the same keys that the lynch mob used to unlock the prison’s infirmary door before seizing Leo Frank.
“From a historian’s perspective and as a Georgia resident, I can tell you I think the discovery of these keys is outstanding and really exciting,” said Dr. Bradshaw. “This case is just as significant today, in my mind, as it was 107 years ago.”
Brittany Rhodes, a graduate student at UNG, discovered the keys in 2002 while she and her mother Stephanie were cleaning out Warden Smith’s estate in Decatur. The keys and their history would likely have been thrown out if it weren’t for Stephanie’s love of old keys.
“Up until this point, I had kept them in a drawer at home,” said Stephanie.
“It was two or three years ago that together we started really researching the keys and the warden’s name which was on the [key] ring,” said Brittany. “After learning about the Leo Frank case, and since Smith was the warden at the time and the keys are dated for 1915, we figured these were most likely the keys used to abduct him from prison.”
Jeremy Katz, the Director of the Cuba Family Archives for Southern Jewish History at the Breman Museum, says the keys have been authenticated and will be further examined by Leo Frank experts.
The Breman Museum is home to the most extensive collection of Leo Frank artifacts in the world. One of its past exhibitions, “Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case Revisited,” provided an immersive experience for visitors as they were invited to examine the tragic events of 1913 to 1915.