Sacco and Vanzetti

posted Jan 12, 2009, 10:23 AM by Vincenza Scarpaci   [ updated Feb 23, 2009, 2:26 PM by Tom Layton ]

Following the journey of Italians in America illuminates our past and present. I welcome you to participate in an exchange of insights we discover our own personal Italian heritage or from our reading historical and literary accounts.  Send your comments and questions to me at vscarpaci@gmail.com.

I've been showing Peter Miller's powerful documentary Sacco and Vanzetti and I am amazed that even eighty years after their execution, their lives, trial and legacy still resonate. In today's post 9/11 world, many see parallels of the war against terrorism and the society that condemned these two anarchists.  

The case of Sacco and Vanzetti remains the classic case in US post WWI history. 81 years ago, on August 23rd 1927, the two Italian anarchists were executed for the May 1920 murder of two payroll guards at a shoe factory in Braintree, Massachusetts. Anarchists believe that society needs no government--that people innately will organize to provide basic needs for all. They see government and organized capitalism as the source of inequality and injustice, so they work together to remove what they claim are unnecessary and impersonal restraints on society.

While just about everyone agrees that their trial was unfair and that the prosecution did not provide evidence to prove guilt, some people wonder if these men might have been capable of violent actions. we are left to wonder whether a payroll robbery would have been an expression of anarchist ideology.  Yet, there is no doubt that the men were prosecuted because they were anarchists and immigrants rather than whether they had in fact carried out the crime.

While this trial is often referred to as the trial of the century--it continues alive and well into the twenty-first.   In August, 1997, fifty years after their death in the electric chair, Thomas Menino, the mayor of Boston and Massachusetts acting Governor, Paul Cellucci dedicated a memorial to the two men. The memorial, commissioned by the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee is the 1927 work of sculptor Gutzon Borglum --the same artist who carved the faces of four American presidents on Mount Rushmore. The Sacco and Vanzetti memorial had been offered to Massachusetts governors or Boston mayors in 1937, in 1947, with endorsements of Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt and in 1957, but the gift was rejected because of the controversy surrounding the trial. Even in 1997, when the work was unveiled for the public,  Mayor Menino chose his words carefully...”The city’s acceptance of this piece of artwork is not intended to reopen debate about the guilt or innocence of Sacco and Vanzetti. It is intended to remind us of the dangers of miscarried justice, and the right we all have to a fair trial."


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