Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sacco and Vanzetti

Today is the eightieth anniversary of the execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. The New York Times has published Andrea Camilleri's essay on the way that this execution, like the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, has lingered in our consciousness. Camilleri posits that this may be because "as with the Kennedy brothers, we still have difficulty accepting the reasons, or lack thereof, for their deaths." Last year, a new documentary film directed by Peter Miller was released. We added it to our Law in Film collection, and I can report that it is a compelling portrayal of the infamous trial and the prejudice against immigrants that was rampant at that time. It is hard to imagine now, when Italian-Americans have ascended to the highest echelons of American public life, that there was a time when prejudice against them was widespread and profound.

The memory of the execution is even more acute in Italy, where every year on this day, at least one Italian newspaper runs an article on the case. In Italy, there has been a play written about the case, a 1971 film, an RAI television production, and an Internet site with an active discussion list.

For those who want more information about the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, a good resource is the Famous Trials website, a project of Professor Douglas O. Linder of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. The homepage of the Sacco and Vanzetti trial links to Professor Linder's account of the case, biographies of the major players, the trial transcript, a summary of the evidence, statements at sentencing, the court decisions, Sacco and Vanzetti's letters from prison, images, FBI files, and a bibliography.


Betsy McKenzie said...

Thank you for a very moving post, Marie! Sacco and Vanzetti happened here in Massachusetts. Actually in Quincy court. Our current mayor of Boston is Italian-American and the new power-broker in our State House is also Italian-American. So this is a very emotional case up here. There are still folks around who remember, though there are fewer with each passing year.

Paulo M. said...

Was the Sacco & Vanzetti trial really only about ethnic hatred? What about the actual bombings that were reliably pinned on anarchists?

The evidence against Sacco was very solid, and would be sufficient to convict him today. Vanzetti, at the very least, knew about Sacco's plans and chose not to alert the authorities.

Sure, there was a lot of anti-Italian prejudice here 80 years ago, but that doesn't excuse the crime that we know Sacco committed, and that fact trumps all other considerations. It's the elephant in the room that too many people don't want to talk about, because it contradicts (undermines?) their preferred political shading of this event.

Betsy McKenzie said...

Actually, looking at the actual evidence in the original case, there are lots of questions about did they actually have the right guys. You can see a very nice summary of the evidence laid out even-handedly, without the hysteria of either anti-immigrant or terrorist fear or the more recent backlash against the prosecution and judge for being unfair to immigrants in the climate of fear. See (actually a much longer URL based at UMKC, produced by faculty there).

Betsy McKenzie said...

The link I give is already there in Marie's original post, to the UMKC's Famous Trials.