America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
We have now reached a stage of the case the details of which shake one’s confidence in the whole course of the proceedings and reveal a situation which undermines the respect usually to be accorded to a jury’s verdict.
-Felix Frankfurter in The Atlantic
America our nation has been beaten by strangers who have turned our language inside out who have taken the clean words our fathers spoke and made them slimy and foul
their hired men sit on the judge`s bench they sit back with their feet on the tables under the dome of the State House they are ignorant of our beliefs they have the dollars the guns the armed forces the powerplants
they have built the electricchair and hired the executioner to throw the switch
all right we are two nations
. . .
but do they know the old words of the immigrants are being renewed in blood and agony tonight do they know the old American speech of the haters of oppression is new tonight in the mouth of an old woman from Pittsburgh of a husky boilermaker from Frisco who hopped freights clear from the Coast to come here …
the men in the deathhouse made the old words new before they died.
Let us abandon then our gardens and go home
And sit in the sitting room.
Shall the larkspur blossom or the corn grow under this cloud?
Sour to the fruitful seed
Is the cold earth under this cloud,
Fostering quack and weed, we have marched upon but cannot conquer;
We have bent the blades of our hoes against the stalks of them.
Let us go home, and sit in the sitting room.
Not in our day
Shall the cloud go over and the sun rise as before,
Beneficent upon us
Out of the glittering bay,
And the warm winds be blown inward from the sea
Moving the blades of corn
With a peaceful sound.
Stands the blue hay-rack by the empty mow.
And the petals drop to the ground,
Leaving the tree unfruited.
The sun that warmed our stooping backs and withered the weed uprooted
We shall not feel it again.
We shall die in darkness, and be buried in the rain.
What from the splendid dead
We have inherited —
Furrows sweet to the grain, and the weed subdued —
See now the slug and the mildew plunder.
Evil does overwhelm
The larkspur and the corn;
We have seen them go under.
Let us sit here, sit still,
Here is the sitting-room until we die;
At the step of Death on the walk, rise and go;
Leaving to our children`s children this beautiful doorway,
And this elm,
And a blighted earth to till
With a broken hoe.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Justice Denied in Massachusetts”
If it had not been for these things, I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have died, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triumph. Never in our full life could we hope to do such work for tolerance, for justice, for man’s understanding of man as now we do by accident. Our words — our lives — our pains — nothing! The taking of our lives — lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish-peddler — all! That last moment belongs to us — that agony is our triumph.
Ben Shahn, The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti
A recently discovered letter indicates that Upton Sinclair was convinced of his subjects’ guilt.
“Alone in a hotel room with Fred [Moore], I begged him to tell me the full truth … He then told me that the men were guilty, and he told me in every detail how he had framed a set of alibis for them … I faced the most difficult ethical problem of my life at that point … I had come to Boston with the announcement that I was going to write the truth about the case.”
But Sinclair had reasons beyond the “ethical” to tell what he saw as the larger truth. From a different letter:
“My wife is absolutely certain that if I tell what I believe, I will be called a traitor to the movement and may not live to finish the book … Of course, the next big case may be a frame-up, and my telling the truth about the Sacco-Vanzetti case will make things harder for the victims … It is much better copy as a naïve defense of Sacco and Vanzetti because this is what all my foreign readers expect, and they are 90% of my public.”
Well, the dying time came, the legal midnight hour,
The moment set by law for the Chair to be at work,
To substantiate the majesty of the State of Massachusetts
That hour was at hand, had arrived, was struck by the clocks,
The time for two men to be carried cool on a cooling board
Beyond the immeasurably thin walls between day and night,
Beyond the reach of airmail, telegrams, radiophones,
Beyond the brotherhoods of blood into the fraternities
Of mist and foggy dew, of stars and ice.
The time was on for two men
To march beyond blood into dust —
A time that comes to all men,
Some with a few loved ones at a bedside,
Some alone in the wilderness or the wide sea,
Some before a vast audience of all manking.
Now Sacco saw the witnesses
As the straps were fitted on
Tying him down in the Chair —
And seeing the witnesses were
Respectable men and responsible citizens
And even though there had been no introductions,
Sacco said, “Good-evening, gentlemen.”
And before the last of the straps was fastened so to hold
Sacco murmured, “Farewell, mother.”
Then came Vanzetti.
He wished the vast audience of all mankind
To know something he carried in his breast.
This was the time to tell it.
He had to speak now or hold his peace forever.
The headgear was being clamped on.
The straps muffling his mouth were going on.
He shouted, “I wish to forgive some people
for what they are now doing.”
And so now
the dead are dead????
-Carl Sandburg, “Legal Midnight Hour”
THE names of the “good shoe-maker and poor fish-peddler” have ceased to represent merely two Italian workingmen. Throughout the civilised world Sacco and Vanzetti have become a symbol, the shibboleth of Justice crushed by Might. That is the great historic significance of this twentieth century crucifixion, and truly prophetic, were the words of Vanzetti when he declared, “The last moment belongs to us–that agony is our triumph.”
Vanzetti was right when he declared that his execution was his greatest triumph, for all through history it has been the martyrs of progress that have ultimately triumphed. Where are the Caesars and Torquemadas of yesterday? Who remembers the names of the judges who condemned Giordano Bruno and John Brown? The Parsons and the Ferrers, the Saccos and Vanzettis live eternal and their spirits still march on.
-Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman, “Sacco and Vanzetti”
On this day..
- 2012: Nine in Gambia - 2020
- 1712: Peter Dalton, "I think it is no Sin to take from such Misers" - 2019
- 1927: Madame Klepikoff, wife of the spy - 2018
- 1828: Annice, a slave - 2017
- 1672: Not Cornelius van Baerle, tulip-fancier - 2016
- 1925: The Egyptian assassins of British Gen. Lee Stack - 2015
- 1833: A 13-year-old slave girl - 2014
- 1849: Rebecca Smith, to save her children from want - 2013
- 1946: Chu Minyi, collaborationist Foreign Minister - 2012
- 1594: Ishikawa Goemon, bandit - 2011
- 406: Radagaisus the Barbarian - 2009
- 1305: William Wallace, Braveheart - 2008