(WOODY GUTHRIE) (1945-'46)

Demonstration, Boston, August 8, 1927


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The World War lasted four years and was duly chronicled as an international episode. The case of Sacco and Vanzetti is seven years old and is still an international episode. It is a tale filled with blood and tears, with Reds and bigwigs, with bombs and laws...

July 14, 1921. A jury found Messrs. Sacco and Vanzetti guilty of the South Braintree murders on the following evidence: Factory-window witnesses, who had previously identified other Italians as participants in the crime, swore that Messrs. Sacco and Vanzetti were the killers. But, twenty Italians said they had purchased eels from Mr. Vanzetti at the hour of the crime, and the Italian consul in Boston swore that Mr. Sacco had been in his presence at that time. However, the police who arrested them swore that they had drawn guns. This was interpreted as "evidence of guilt." The jury was asked to do its duty as "did our boys in France" -- an effective plea, considering the fact that Messrs. Sacco and Vanzetti were pacifists as well as radicals.

1921-1927. Motions for a new trial were repeatedly turned down while radicals flung bombs at many a U.S. embassy, while liberals such as Anatole France, Romain Rolland, Henri Barbusse, Fritz Kreisler, Albert Einstein protested against the injustice being done to the fish peddler and the shoemaker.

Last week in a Dedham courtroom, there was a scene, wherein seven years of emotion simmered and boiled over. The Supreme Court of Massachusetts had finally and flatly rejected evidence for a new trial on the grounds that there had not been a "failure of justice." Justice Webster Thayer, clad in black robes, with a face as still and as pallid as an ancient cameo, entered the courtroom to sentence Messrs. Sacco and Vanzetti to the electric chair. Bluecoats fingered sawed-off shotguns. Secret service agents with crimson rosettes in their lapels posed as Reds. Women sobbed. The clerk dropped: "Nicola Sacco, have you anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon you?"

In the prisoners' box a clean-shaven Italian, with a high forehead and a son named Dante, stood up:

"Yes, sir, I, I am not an orator," said Nicola Sacco. "It is not very familiar with me, the English language... I never know, never heard, even read in history anything so cruel as this court... My comrade, the kind man, the kind man to all the children, you sentence him two times... and you know he is innocent... I forgot one thing which my comrade remember me. As I said before, Judge Thayer know all my life, and he know that I am never guilty, never -- not yesterday, nor today, not forever."
The clerk droned again: "Bartolomeo Vanzetti, have you anything to say...?" The fish peddler was an orator:
"Yes, what I say is that I am innocent... I have never stole, never killed, never spilled blood... but I have struggled all my life, since I began to reason, to eliminate crime from the earth...
I would not wish to a dog, or to a snake, to the most low and misfortune creature of the earth -- I would not wish to any of them what I have had to suffer for things that I am not 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... but I am so convinced to be right that you could execute me two times and if I could be re-born two other time, I would live again to do what I have done already. I have finished; thank you."

TIME, April 18, 1927.

Lyrics as reprinted in liner notes for "Ballades de Sacco & Vanzetti" (French edition of "Ballads of Sacco & Vanzetti", Folkways/Le Chant du Monde, LDX 74467, 1960s); minor corrections by Manfred Helfert.

The year is nineteen and twenty, kind friends,
And the great World's War we have won.
Old Kaiser Bill, we've beat him once again
In the smoke of the cannon and the gun.

Old von Hindenburg and his Royal German Army,
They are tramps in tatters and in rags.
Uncle Sammy has tied every nation in this world
In his long old leather money bags.

Wilson caught a trip and a train into Paris,
Meetin' Lloyd George and Mr. Clemenceau.
They said to Mr. Wilson, "We've staked all of our claims,
There is nothing else for you."

"I plowed more lands, I built bigger fact'ries,
An' I stopped Hindenburg in his tracks.
You thank the Yanks by claimin' all the lands,
But you still owe your money to my bank."

"Keep sending your ships across these waters;
We'll borrow all the money you can lend.
We must buy new clothes, new plows, and fact'ries,
And we need golden dollars for to spend."

Ever' dollar in the world, well, it rolled and it rolled,
And it rolled into Uncle Sammy's door.
A few got richer, and richer, and richer,
But the poor folks kept but gettin' poor.

Well, the workers in the world did fight a revolution
To chase out the gamblers from their land.
Farmers, an' peasants, an' workers in the city
Fought together on their five-year plans.

The soul and the spirit of the workers' revolution
Spread across ever' nation in this world;
From Italy to China, to Europe and to India,
An' the blood of the workers it did spill.

This spirit split the wind to Boston, Massachussetts,
With Coolidge on the Governor's chair.
Troopers an' soldiers, the guards and the spies
Fought the workers that brought the spirit there.

Sacco and Vanzetti had preached to the workers,
They was carried up to Old Judge Thayer.
They was charged with killin' the payroll guards,
And they died in the Charlestown chair.

Well, the world shook harder on the night they died,
Than 'twas shaken by that great World War.
More millions did march for Sacco and Vanzetti
Than did march for the great war lords.

Well, the peasants, the farmers, the towns and the cities,
An' the hills and the valleys they did ring.
Hindenburg an' Wilson, an' Harding, Hoover, Coolidge,
Never heard this many voices sing.

The zigzag lightning, the rumbles of the thunder,
And the singing of the clouds blowing by,
The flood and the storm for Sacco and Vanzetti
Caused the rich man to pull his hair and cry.

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