Smithsonian Magazine, “Sacco and Vanzetti’s Trial of the Century Exposed Injustice in 1920s America”

The pair’s path to becoming media sensations began 100 years ago. To this day the two remain emblems of prejudice in the American justice system

By Annika Neklason, May 27, 2021

For six years, starting in 1921, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti watched from death row as writers argued for their freedom, politicians debated their case, and radicals held protests and set off bombs in their names. They managed to rally support even from people who initially condemned them. But by May 1927, the pair of leftist ideologues had exhausted their options for an appeal. They had little left ahead of them but the electric chair.

Vanzetti contemplated his impending martyrdom to a visiting reporter. “If it had not been for these things, I might have lived out my life, talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have died, unmarked, unknown, a failure,” he reflected. But now?

Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triumph. Never in our full life can we hope to do such work for tolerance, for justice, for man’s understanding of man as we now do by dying. Our words, our lives, our pains—nothing! The taking of our lives—lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler—all! That last moment belongs to us—that agony is our triumph.

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