(WOODY GUTHRIE) (1945-'46)

Sacco and Vanzetti, Aug 1927


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Following their departure from the Johnson house, Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested by a policeman who boarded their street car as it was coming into Brockton. Three policemen testified as to their behavior after being taken into custody. The following will serve as a sample:
"I told them when we started that the first false move I would put a bullet in them. On the way up to the station Sacco reached his hand to put under his overcoat and I told him to keep his hands outside of his clothes and on his lap."

Q. Will you illustrate to the jury how he placed his hands?

A. He was sitting down with his hands that way [indicating] and he moved his hand up to put it in under his overcoat.

Q. At what point?

A. Just about the stomach there, across his waistband, and I says to him, 'Have you got a gun there?' He says, 'No.' He says, 'I ain't got no gun.' 'Well,' I says, 'keep your hands outside of your clothes.' We went along a little further and he done the same thing. I gets up on my knees on the front seat and I reaches over and I puts my hand under his coat, but I did not see any gun. 'Now,' I says, Mister, if you put your hand in there again, you are going to get into trouble.' He says, 'I don't want no trouble.'

In statements made to the District Attorney and to the Chief of Police at the police station after their arrest, both Sacco and Vanzetti lied. By misstatements they tried to conceal their movements on the day of their arrest, the friends they had been to see, the places they had visited. For instance, Vanzetti denied that he knew Boda.

What of this evidence of "consciousness of guilt"? The testimony of the police that Sacco and Vanzetti were about to draw pistols was emphatically denied by them. These denials, it was urged, were confirmed by the inherent probabilities of the situation. Did Sacco and Vanzetti upon arrest reveal the qualities of the perpetrators of the Braintree murders? Would the ready and ruthless gunmen at Braintree have surrendered themselves so quietly into custody on a capital charge of which they knew themselves to be guilty? If Sacco and Vanzetti were the holdup men of Braintree, why did they not draw upon their expert skill and attempt to make their escape by scattering shots? But, not being gunmen, why should Sacco and Vanzetti have carried guns? The possession of firearms in this country has not at all the significance that it would have, say, in England.

The extensive carrying of guns by people who are not "gunmen" is a matter of common knowledge. Sacco acquired the habit of carrying a pistol while a night watchman in the shoe factory, because, as his employer testified, "night watchmen protecting property do have guns." Vanzetti carried a revolver "because it was a very bad time, and I like to have a revolver for self-defense."

Q. How much money did you use to carry around with you?

A. When I went to Boston for fish, I can carry eighty, one hundred dollars, one hundred and twenty dollars.

There were many crimes, many holdups, many robberies at that time. The other evidence from which "consciousness of guilt" was drawn the two Italians admitted. They acknowledged that they behaved in the way described by Mrs. Johnson; and freely conceded that when questioned at the police station they told lies. What was their explanation of this conduct? To exculpate themselves of the crime of murder they had to disclose elaborately their guilt of radicalism. In order to meet the significance which the prosecution attached to the incidents at the Johnson house and those following, it became necessary for the defendants to advertise to the jury their offensive radicalism, and thereby to excite the deepest prejudices of a Norfolk County jury picked for its respectability and sitting in judgment upon two men of alien blood and abhorrent philosophy. Innocent men, it is suggested, do not lie when picked up by the police. But Sacco and Vanzetti knew they were not innocent of the charge on which they supposed themselves arrested, and about which the police interrogated them. For when apprehended, Sacco and Vanzetti were not confronted with the charge of murder; they were not accused of banditry; they were not given the remotest intimation that the murders of Parmenter and Berardelli were laid at their door. They were told they were arrested as "suspicious characters," and the meaning which that carried to their minds was rendered concrete by the questions that were put to them.
Q. Tell us all you recall that Stewart, the chief, asked of you?

A. He asked me why we were in Bridgewater, how long I knew Sacco, if I am a radical, if I am an anarchist or Communist, and he asked me if I believe in the government of the United States.

Q. Did either Chief Stewart at the Brockton police station or Mr. Katzmann tell you that you were suspected of robberies and murder?

A. No.

Q. Was there any question asked of you or any statement made to you to indicate to you that you were charged with that crime on April 15?

A. No.

Q. What did you understand, in view of the questions asked of you, what did you understand you were being detained for at the Brockton police station?

A. I understand they arrested me for a political matter....

Q....Why did you feel you were being detained for political opinions?

A. Because I was asked if I was a Socialist. I said, 'Well --'

Q. You mean by reason of the questions asked of you?

A. Because I was asked if I am a Socialist, if I am I.W.W., if I am a Communist, if I am a Radical, if I am a Black Hand.

Plainly their arrest meant to Sacco and Vanzetti arrest for radicalism. Boston was one of the worst centres of the lawlessness and hysteria that characterized the campaign of the Department of Justice for the wholesale arrest and deportation of Reds. Its proximity to industrial communities having a large proportion of foreign labor and a history of past industrial conflicts lent to the lawless activities of the government officials the widespread support of influential public opinion. Mr. John F. Moors, himself a banker, has called attention to the fact that "the hysteria against 'the reds' was so great, at the time when these men were convicted, that even the most substantial bankers in this city [Boston] were carried away to the extent of paying for full-page advertisements about the red peril."

Sacco and Vanzetti were notorious Reds. They were associates of leading radicals; they had for some time been on the list of suspects of the Department of Justice; and they were especially obnoxious because they were draft-dodgers.

The terrorizing methods of the Government had very specific meaning for the two Italians. Two of their friends had already been deported. The arrest of the New York radical Salsedo, and his detention incommunicado by the Department of Justice, had been for some weeks a source of great concern to them. Vanzetti was sent to New York to confer with a committee having charge of the case of Salsedo and other Italian political prisoners. On his return, May 2, he reported to his Boston friends the advice which had been given him: namely, to dispose of their radical literature and thus eliminate the most damaging evidence in the deportation proceedings they feared. The urgency of acting on this advice was intensified by the tragic news of Salsedo's death after Vanzetti's return from New York. Though Salsedo's death was unexplained, to Sacco and Vanzetti it conveyed only one explanation. It was a symbol of their fears and an omen of their own fate.

On the witness stand Sacco and Vanzetti accounted for their movements on April 15. They also accounted for their ambiguous behavior on May 5. Up to the time that Sacco and Vanzetti testified to their radical activities, their pacifism, their flight to Mexico to avoid the draft, the trial was a trial for murder and banditry; with the cross-examination of Sacco and Vanzetti patriotism and radicalism became the dominant emotional issues. Outside the courtroom the Red hysteria was rampant; it was allowed to dominate within. The prosecutor systematically played on the feelings of the jury by exploiting the unpatriotic and despised beliefs of Sacco and Vanzetti, and the judge allowed him thus to divert and pervert the jury's mind.

The opening question in the cross-examination of Vanzetti by the District Attorney discloses a motif that he persistently played upon:

Q. (by Mr. Katzmann) So you left Plymouth, Mr. Vanzetti, in May, 1917, to dodge the draft, did you?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. When this country was at war, you ran away, so you would not have to fight as a soldier?

A. Yes.

This method was elaborated when Sacco took the stand:

Q. (by Mr. Katzmann) Did you say yesterday you love a free country?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Did you love this country in the month of May, 1917?

A. I did not say -- I don't want to say I did not love this country.

Q. Did you go to Mexico to avoid being a soldier for this country that you loved?

A. Yes.

Q. And would it be your idea of showing your love for your wife that, when she needed you, you ran away from her?

A. I did not run away from her.

Q. Don't you think going away from your country is a vulgar thing to do when she needs you?

A. I don't believe in war.

Q. You don't believe in war?

A. No, sir.

Q. Do you think it is a cowardly thing to do what you did?

A. No, sir.

Q. Do you think it is a brave thing to do what you did?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Do you think it would be a brave thing to go away from your own wife?

A. No.

Q. When she needed you?

A. No.

THE COURT: All I ask is this one question, and it will simplify matters very much. Is it your claim that in the collection of the literature and the books and papers that that was done in the interest of the United States?

MR. JEREMIAH MCANARNEY: I make no such broad claim as that....

MR. KATZMANN: Well, he [Sacco] stated in his direct examination yesterday that he loved a free country, and I offer it to attack that statement made in his examination by his own counsel.

THE COURT: That is what I supposed, and that is what I supposed that remark meant when it was introduced in this cross-examination, but counsel now say they don't make that claim.

MR. KATZMANN: They say they don't make the claim that gathering up the literature on May 5 at West Bridgewater was for the purpose of helping the country, but that is a different matter, not released [sic] to May 5.

THE COURT: I will let you inquire further first as to what he meant by the expression.

Q. What did you mean when you said yesterday you loved a free country?

A. Give me a chance to explain.

Q. I am asking you to explain now.

A. When I was in Italy, a boy, I was a Republican, so I always thinking Republican has more chance to manage education, develop, to build some day his family, to raise the child and education, if you could. But that was my opinion; so when I came to this country I saw there was not what I was thinking before, but there was all the difference, because I been working in Italy not so hard as I been work in this country. I could live free there just as well. Work in the same condition but not so hard, about seven or eight hours a day, better food. I mean genuine. Of course, over here is good food, because it is bigger country, to any those who got money to spend, not for the working and laboring class, and in Italy is more opportunity to laborer to eat vegetable, more fresh, and I came in this country. When I been started work here very hard and been work thirteen years, hard worker, I could not been afford much a family the way I did have the idea before. I could not put any money in the bank; I could no push my boy some to go to school and other things. I teach over here men who is with me. The free idea gives any man a chance to profess his own idea, not the supreme idea, not to give any person, not to be like Spain in position, yes, about twenty centuries ago, but to give a chance to print and education, literature, free speech, that I see it was all wrong. I could see the best men, intelligent, education, they been arrested and sent to prison and died in prison for years and years without getting them out, and Debs, one of the great men in his country, he is in prison, still away in prison, because he is a Socialist. He wanted the laboring class to have better conditions and better living, more education, give a push his son if he could have a chance some day, but they him in prison. Why? Because the capitalist class, they know, they are against that, because the capitalist class, they don't want our child to go to high school or college or Harvard College. There would be no chance, there would not be no -- they don't want the working class educationed; they want the working class to be a low all the times, be underfoot, and not to be up with the head. So, sometimes, you see, the Rockefellers, Morgans, they give fifty -- I mean they give five hundred thousand dollars to Harvard College, they give a million dollars for another school. Every day say, 'Well, D . Rockefeller is a great man, the best man in the country.' I want to ask him who is going to Harvard College? What benefit the working class they will get by those million dollars they give by Rockefeller, D. Rockefellers. They won't get, the poor class, they won't have no chance to go to Harvard College because men who is getting $21 a week or $30 a week, I don't care if he gets $80 a week, if he gets a family of five children he can't live and send his child and go to Harvard College if he wants to eat everything nature will give him. If he wants to eat like a cow, and that is the best thing, but I want men to live like men. I like men to get everything that nature will give best, because they belong--we are not the friend of any other place, but we are belong to nations. So that is why my idea has been changed. So that is why I love people who labor and work and see better conditions every day develop, makes no more war. We no want fight by the gun, and we don't want to destroy young men. The mother has been suffering for building the young man. Some day need a little more bread, so when the time the mother get some bread or profit out of that boy, the Rockefellers, Morgans, and some of the peoples, high class, they send to war. Why? What is war? The war is not shoots like Abraham Lincoln's and Abe Jefferson, to fight for the free country, for the better education to give chance to any other peoples, not the white people but the black and the others, because they believe and know they are mens like the rest, but they are war for the great millionaire. No war for the civilization of men. They are war for business, million dollars come on the side. What right we have to kill each other? I been work for the Irish. I have been working with the German fellow, with the French, many other peoples. I love them people just as I could love my wife, and my people for that did receive me. Why should I go kill them men? What he done to me? He never done anything, so I don't believe in no war. I want to destroy those guns. All I can say, the Government put the literature, give us educations. I remember in Italy, a long time ago, about sixty years ago, I should say, yes, about sixty years ago, the Government they could not control very much those two -- devilment went on, and robbery, so one of the government in the cabinet he says, 'If you want to destroy those devilments, if you want to take off all those criminals, you ought to give a chance to Socialist literature, education of people, emancipation. That is why I destroy governments, boys.' That is why my idea I love Socialists. That is why I like people who want education and living, building, who is good, just as much as they could. That is all.

Q. And that is why you love the United States of America?

A. Yes.

Felix Frankfurter, The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti, Atlantic Monthly, March 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.

Oh, pour me a drink of Italian red wine;
And let me taste it and call back to mind
Once more in my thoughts, and once more in my soul,
This story as great, if not greater, than all.

The AP news on June 24th
Told about a patrolman named Earl J. Vaugh.
He stepped on a Main Street trolley car
And arrested Sacco and Vanzetti there.

The article tells how Earl J. Vaugh
Is now retiring as an officer of law;
This cop goes down in my history
For arresting Sacco and Vanzetti that day.

It was 1920, the 5th of May,
The cop and some buddies took these men away,
Off of the car and out and down,
And down to the jail in Brockton town.

"There's been a killing and a robbery
At the Slater Morrill shoe factory
You two gents are carryin' guns,
And you dodged the draft when the war did come."

"Yes, 'tis so, 'tis so, 'tis so,
We made for the borders of Mexico.
The rich man's war we could not fight,
So we crossed the border to keep out of sight."

"You men are known as radical sons,
You must be killers, you both carry guns."
"I'm a night watchman, my friend peddles fish,
And he carries his gun when he's got lots of cash."

Oh, pour me a glass of Germany's beer,
Russia's hot vodka, so strong and clear,
Pour me a glass of Palestine's Hock,
Or just a moonshiner's bucket of chock.

Now, let me think, and let me see
How these two men were found guilty.
How a hundred and sixty witnesses passed by,
And the ones spoke for them was a hundred and five.

Out of the rest, about fifty just guessed,
Out of the five that was put to the test
Only the story of one held true,
After a hundred and fifty nine got through.

And on this one, uncertain and afraid,
She saw the carload of robbers, she said.
One year later, she remembered his face,
After seein' his car for a second and a half.

She told of his hand, an' his gun, an' his ears,
She told of his shirt, an' the cut of his hair.
Remembered his eyes, an' his lips, an' his cheeks,
And Eva Splaine's tale sent these men to the chair.

I was right there in Boston the night that they died,
I never did see such sight in my life;
I thought the crowds would pull down the town,
An' I was hopin' they'd do it and change things around.

I hoped they'd pull Judge Thayer on down
From off of his bench and they'd chase him around.
Hoped they'd run him around this stump
And stick him with a devil tails about ever' jump.

Wash this tequila down with gin
An' a double straight shot of your black Virgin rum.
My ale bubbled out an' my champagne is flat,
I hear the man comin', I'm grabbin' my hat.

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