Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were committed anarchists who had been active in many workers’ struggles. In 1916, Sacco was arrested for taking part in a demonstration in solidarity with workers on strike in Minnesota. In the same year he took part in a strike in a factory in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was here that he met Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who was one of the principal organisers of that strike. Like most anarchists, the two were also active in their opposition to the First World War.
In April 1920, anarchist Andrea Salsedo was arrested and detained for 8 weeks. On the morning of May 3rd, he ‘fell’ to his death from the 14th floor window of a New York Dept. of Justice building. Sacco and Vanzetti, along with other comrades, immediately called a public meeting in Boston to protest. While out building support for this meeting they were arrested on suspicion of “dangerous radical activities”. They soon found themselves charged with a payroll robbery which had taken place the previous April in which 2 security guards had been killed.
The case came to trial in June 1921, and lasted for seven weeks. The state’s case against the two was almost non-existent. Twelve of Vanzetti’s customers (he was working as a fish seller) testified that he was delivering fish to them at the time of the crime. An official of the Italian Consulate in Boston testified that Sacco had been seeing him about a passport at the time. Furthermore, somebody else confessed to the crime and said that neither Sacco nor Vanzetti had anything to do with it.
The judge in the case, Judge Webster Thayer, said of Vanzetti: “This man, although he may not have actually committed the crime attributed to him, is nevertheless morally culpable, because he is the enemy of our existing institutions.” The foreman of the jury, a retired policeman, said in response to a friend of his who ventured the opinion that Sacco and Vanzetti might be innocent “Damn them. They ought to hang anyway.”
85 years ago today, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. Bellow has been reprinted, in full, the transcripts of their final speeches to the court following their sentencing.