AG: Bartelomeo Vanzetti – has anybody read..ever heard (of) him? – Bartelomo Vanzetti? Sacco and Vanzetti? Has anybody notheard of Sacco and Vanzetti? Did you hear of Sacco and Vanzetti? – ok, they were a bunch of anarchists (like Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, except..
Student: Except they went deeper..
AG: ..they were Italian fish-peddlers (except they were sort of cultural heroes of their day). – What’s the story do you remember?
Student: They were accused of anarchist bombing in a… I don’t even know if the bombs went off, but they became symbols, and there’s a lot of evidence that they were actually innocent. They were put on a show-trial. The entire international Communist world rallied to their defense. They were..
AG: [to Nina Zivancevic] [this is 1981]: They’re famous in Yugoslavia!
Student: ..total examples of the American working-guys, solid Communist man..
AG: Anarchist man
Student:..that gets nailed and ..
AG: Anarchist Social Reformer
Student: Yes, Anarchist-Syndicalist
Student: Yes, it’s very moving. I mean…he wrote moving stuff.
Student: And not..and not simple, straightforward wonderful guys, I mean..I forget if it was Sacco but I think it was Sacco, tremendously troubling, I mean, at one point, “Let this cup pass from you” – “Jesus! – I don’t want that! I don’t want to be a national hero!”
AG: Like the Rosenbergs..in terms of their celebrity, but more genuine
Student: Yeah, just basic..
AG: A fish-peddler, who read books in Italian, and knew..had come from Italy and could speak English, just about (both of them), worked together, knew each other, around Boston, and had an anarchist circle. And so it was assumed they were framed for some kind of anarchist bombing..during a period of early McCarthy-ism, 1927..
Student: Robbing a bank, right?
AG: Robbing a bank, killing someone and robbing a bank, wasn’t it?
Student: Bombing a bank.
AG: Bombing a bank ..for anarchist reasons..
Student: I don’t think… did the bombs ever go off though..?
Student 2: The bombs went off. I think they killed somebody.
AG: Well there’s a line in (Jack) Kerouac.. well, you can look it up in the book…
Student 2: Well, because, yeah, because the sentences were more severe weren’t they? – Didn’t one of them get the execution..electric chair, so..
AG:Both did (so – their last speech to the court)
Student 2: They both did. So they must have killed someone in this bombing ..
AG: There are still books coming out about it. Last year there was another new book saying that they were guilty and contradicting the one before that said they weren’t guilty. It’s like the (Alger) Hiss case. However, beyond the whole thing, his (words).. One thing that happened during the trial was (his) last speech to the court, which triumphed over all the adversity. Actually, Justice Felix Frankfurter was one of their lawyers and the judge who condemned them, who refused to hear their (trial?) was Robert Lowell, the poet Robert Lowell’s uncle!, which… and that even turned Robert Lowell’s mind upside-down as a kid, because he always felt the family guilt, and that’s why in World War II he was a Pacifist and went to Consciencious Objector camp. So Robert Lowell was scarred by this case. So this case is very important in American literary history because it’s also one of the few examples we have of direct primary utterance being as great as a poem, like the Gettysburg Address or the Cross of Gold speech by William Jennings Bryan (which I think we also have in here)
I have talked a great deal of myself
More Sacco and Vanzetti resources here