Sacco & Vanzetti Commemoration Speech from IAMUS by Juliet Ucelli of Italian Americans for a Multicultural Society

On Friday, August 23, over 500 people attended a rally in Union Square Park, New York City, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian-born anarchists who were railroaded to the electric chair on bogus criminal charges in Massachusetts in 1927. The following speech was given by Juliet Ucelli on behalf of Italian Americans for a Multicultural U.S. (IAMUS).I would like to briefly address the lessons of Sacco’s and Vanzetti’s lives and deaths for Italian Americans.

Commemorating the 75 Anniversary of the Execution of Sacco & Vanzetti

Today, Italian Americans are integrated into U.S. society as White Americans. But that wasn’t so in the early years of this century. People of Southern Italian background were considered non-White well into the 1920s. We were called aliens, wops–meaning “without papers,” just like today’s undocumented immigrants are called aliens. Nicola Sacco and Bartomoleo Vanzetti were derided as “dirty dagoes, reds” and “anarchistic bastards” (by their trial judge, Webster Thayerof Massachusetts). Anarchists were considered terrorists. Sound familiar?

When they were arrested and put on trial for murder, Sacco and Vanzetti got support from radical and genuinely democratic people of all nationalities and walks of life. Italian Americans who were poor, working class, new immigrants, much of the lower middle class, particularly identified with their suffering and stigmatization. My mother remembers her uncle saying, “Those men were murdered because they were Italian.” [The well known poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, wrote her famous poem “Justice Denied in Massachusetts” to commemorate the deaths of the labor organizers. She had marched with Edmund Wilson, Mary McCarthy and other progressive and well informed intellectuals in defense of the two men, but many turned a deaf ear on their plight.]

Sacco and Vanzetti themselves knew why they were being targeted. In Bartolomeo Vanzetti’s immigrant dialect he said these words:
“I would not wish to a dog or to a snake 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 was an Italian, and indeed I am an Italian; I have suffered more for my family and my beloved than for myself; but I am so convinced to be right that 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.”

Today, Sacco and Vanzette are long-dead and it’s safe to feel sympathy for them. And, many Italian Americans look back with nostalgia, from a comfortable position of white Bartolomeo Vanzetti
, 1927

privilege, at this era when we actually were an oppressed national minority subject to persecution. But when Sacco and Vanzetti were facing execution and needing support, lots of Italian Americans–the establishment, some professionals, the wealthy–would have nothing to do with them. They didn‚t want to be associated with those radicals and ‘terrorists’.

So I pose this challenge: If you won’t stand up now for the Arabs, Muslims and South Asians who are being held without any Constitutional rights for supposed association with terrorists, you wouldn‚t have stood up for Sacco and Vanzetti either. If you won’t stand up for Mumia Abu Jamal, the former Black Panther, journalist and exposer of the crimes of the Philadelphia Police Department who was railroaded and faces the death penalty for supposedly killing a Philadelphia police officer, you wouldn’t have stood up for Sacco and Vanzetti either.

And if you won’t stand up against Bush’s endless war on whatever country is not bowing down to the dictates of the U.S. elite, you wouldn’t have stood up for Sacco and Vanzetti either.

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti understood well that most wars are called for by the rich to protect their wealth, their oil wells, their sources of profit. We shouldn’t forget what they knew.

Long live the memory of Sacco and Vanzetti!
Free the detainees!
Free Mumia Abu Jamal!
Abolish the death penalty!
No to Bush’s war!


–quote from Bartolomeo Vanzetti, 1927, upon being sentenced to death
Above speech by Juliet Ucelli, of Italian Americans for a Multicultural Society,
delivered in Union Square Park, New York City, August 23, 2002, 75th anniversary.

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