Good Loving Woman

Good Loving Woman

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America, why are your libraries full of tears?

August 23, 2013


On this day in 1927 Nicola Sacco, a shoemaker, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a fish seller, were executed in Boston. The two men, Italian immigrants, had been convicted of the murders of Frederick Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli, employees of the Slater & Morrill Shoe Company. Seven years earlier, April 15, 1920 at 3:00 in the afternoon, in the broad daylight of South Braintree, Massachusetts, two thieves shot and robbed a paymaster and his guard of the nearly $16,000 payroll they were carrying.

Seven shots were fired. The killers picked up the two boxes containing the money, leaped into a car containing several other men, and sped away. The whole event took less than a minute.

A few weeks later, Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested on a streetcar by a policeman who thought they looked suspicious. Both men were armed, and they lied to police about their guns. That September, Sacco and Vanzetti were indicted for the murders. The trial began the following spring in Dedham, Massachusetts. The case was heard by Judge Webster Thayer, who called the two men “anarchists.” On the evening of July 14, the jury returned its verdict: both men were declared guilty of murder in the first degree.

Neither Sacco nor Vanzetti had a criminal record, nor were they communists. But they were known to the authorities as militant radicals. They were politically active and had been involved in the anti-war movement. Their arrest took place just after the Red Scare of 1919, a time of fear and political unrest.

Though Sacco and Vanzetti believed themselves to be victims of prejudice, Judge Thayer denied all motions for a new trial. Vanzetti said in his last speech to Judge Thayer: “My conviction is that I have suffered for things that I am guilty of. I am suffering because I am a radical, and indeed I am a radical; I have suffered because I was an Italian, and indeed I am an Italian …”

Many well-known artists and intellectuals — including H.G. Wells, Upton Sinclair, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Bertrand Russell, Dorothy Parker, John Dos Passos, and George Bernard Shaw — demanded and campaigned for a retrial. They were unsuccessful. On August 23, 1927, seven years after their arrest, Sacco and Vanzetti were sent to the electric chair. The execution caused riots in Germany, Paris, and London.