I recently finished reading my first Kurt Vonnegut novel. I’m not entirely sure what compelled me, I’ve been trying to read a great deal more, since I have the time to do so. Perhaps I should have started with Slaughterhouse Five or Galapagos, one of his more famously known novels, but, for some reason, I picked Jailbird off the shelf first. I could hardly distinguish between fact and fiction, it was so rich with American history. I was immediately smitten with Walter F. Starbuck and how he came to be both an illegitimate gentlemen and a jailbird, time and time again.
I was particularly fascinated by the repeated references to Sacco & Vanzetti and the labor strikes, I remember reading about them in American history courses, but never giving them too much thought until recently. Shortly after I finished Jailbird and returned it to the library, I began picking through a shelf of CD’s and noticed a Woody Guthrie that I quickly added to my stack of things to check out, but didn’t pay too close attention to which album. It happened to be The Ballads of Sacco & Vanzetti album…it also happens to be amazing.
In 1945, Guthrie was commissioned by Folkways Moses Asch to document the tale of the Italian immigrants Sacco & Vanzetti via song.
Ferdinando Nicole Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were anarchists and Italian immigrants who were wrongfully accused of murdering a paymaster and security guard during an armed robbery in Massachusetts in 1920. Both men were tried and convicted and, after several appeals, were sentenced to the electric chair in 1927. The trials were biased and unfair, having taken place during a time when immigrants were treated more like animals than people and anyone who challenged the ideas of the government was seen as a threat and inspired fear.
Vanzetti said this during a speech given months before his execution:
“I would not wish to a dog or to a snake, to the most low and misfortunate creature of the earth–I would not wish to any of them what I have had to suffer for things that I am not guilty of. But my conviction is that I have suffered for things that I am guilty of. I am suffering because I am a radical and indeed I am a radical; I have suffered because I am an Italian and indeed I am an Italian…if you could execute me two times, and if I could be reborn two other times, I would live again to do what I have done already.”
This story is a definite tragedy in American history, one of the many that makes me ashamed as times to be American, though there are also many reasons to appreciate being that. The injustices that so many have suffered because of prejudice, racism and an inability to see beyond the scope of things are truly heartbreaking and I can only imagine the tremendous pain that I will never be unfortunate enough to know, that so many have known.
So here’s to the good men (and women) who have challenged, suffered and endured in an attempt to create a better place in society for those to come after them.
And to those that have refused to expand their one dimensional views and have maliciously prevented so many from living free…I believe in karma, and you’ll get yours.