This Day in History

Aug. 23, 1927: Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco Executed

Time Periods: Prosperity, Depression, & World War II: 1920 - 1944

What I wish more than all in this last hour of agony is that our case and our fate may be understood in their real being and serve as a tremendous lesson to the forces of freedom, that our suffering and death will not have been in vain. — Bartolomeo Vanzetti in letter to Nicola Sacco’s son.

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were two Italian-born immigrants, workers, and anarchists, who were tried and convicted in 1921 for the armed robbery and murder of two payroll guards. The trial took place during the height of the Red Scare, and symbolized the prejudiced views against immigrants, labor unions, and political radicals that were fueled by the Department of Justice raids — known as “the Palmer Raids” — in targeted communities. After seven years of legal appeals and international protest, the two men were executed on August 23, 1927, in Boston.

“Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco” by anti-war painter and photographer Ben Shahn. Source: The Museum of Modern Art.

Howard Zinn wrote,

The case of Sacco and Vanzetti revealed, in its starkest terms, that the noble words inscribed above our courthouses, “Equal Justice Before the Law,” have always been a lie. Those two men, the fish peddler and the shoemaker, could not get justice in the American system, because justice is not meted out equally to the poor and the rich, the native-born and the foreign-born, the orthodox and the radical, the white and the person of color. And while injustice may play itself out today more subtly and in more intricate ways than it did in the crude circumstances of the Sacco and Vanzetti case, its essence remains.

In their case, the unfairness was flagrant. [Continue reading at HowardZinn.org]

A ballad, “For Ines & Dante,” composed by Joe DeFilippo and performed by the R.J. Phillips Band, a group of Baltimore musicians, is dedicated to the family of Nicola Sacco.