The musical concerns the real-life trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank, who was accused of raping and murdering a 13-year-old employee, Mary Phagan. The trial, sensationalized by the media, aroused anti-Semitic tensions in Atlanta and the U.S. state of Georgia. When Frank's sentence was commuted due to possible problems with the trial, he was transferred to a prison in Milledgeville, Georgia, where a lynching party kidnapped him from the prison. Frank was taken to Phagan's hometown of Marietta, Georgia, and he was hanged. The Anti-Defamation League was formed partly in response to the Leo Frank's trial and lynching.