Sacco Vanzetti Case
Nearly 90 years on, people still seem to take this one personally. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian immigrants accused of murdering two people during an armed robbery in Massachusetts in 1920. The trial, which took place in the wake of the wave of national hysteria known as the “Red Scare,” was a joke; the public was paranoid about immigrants and the presiding judge made it clear that he knew what to expect from people who talked funny. To make matters worse, Sacco and Vanzetti were avowed anarchists who both owned guns. Although there was no hard evidence against them, they were convicted and sentenced to death.
The case became an international cause célèbre, and people like Felix Frankfurter, John Dos Passos, and Edna St. Vincent Mil- lay spent years pressing for a retrial. From their desks overseas, Albert Einstein, H. G. Wells, and George Bernard Shaw condemned the trial. Violent demonstrations, many of them in front of U.S. embassies and consulates, took place in London, Paris, Tokyo, Warsaw, and Buenos Aires.
However, Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes turned down an appeal. When Sacco and Vanzetti were finally electrocuted in 1927, everyone was convinced that the whole liberal cause had collapsed. Their funeral took place on August 27 and was attended by a march of 50,000 people, who were stopped at the cemetery-gates and scattered into the streets by the police before trouble could begin.
Sacco and Vanzetti became martyrs, with poems and plays written about them. Unfortunately, modern ballistics tests conducted in 1961 seemed to prove conclusively that the fatal bullet used in the robbery did indeed come from Sacco’s gun. Never mind, it still looks like Vanzetti might have been innocent.