At two public programs last week readers at the Crane Library in Quincy and the Center for Active Living in Plymouth shared with their reasons for having an enduring interest in the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, Italian immigrants executed in 1927 largely because of their radical political beliefs. One man in Quincy told me he had read all the books he could find on the subject and still remained open to be convinced one way or another on the issue of their guilt.
In Plymouth a woman told me the story that came down to her from her mother, who said that a relative of hers had fish delivered to her home by Vanzetti, who was making a living selling fish from a pushcart on the day of the crime for which he was accused. Her relative wished to testify in court, but she spoke only Italian and the defense attorney said her testimony would be without value if she could not give it in English. No courtroom interpreters in those days. Not much concern for the presumption of innocence either when the defendants are made to sit inside a metal cage in the courtroom. Another person told me that the lower level of the Dedham, Mass. courthouse houses a photo of Sacco and Vanzetti sitting inside the cage in the courtroom — along with a third person. Who was the third person? he asked me.
I didn’t know. I’ll try to find out. There’s always something new to learn when it comes to the Sacco-Vanzetti case. Several historians have called it “the case that will never die.”
Another issue that remains unresolved concerns the Memorial Plaque for Sacco and Vanzetti created by famed sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who carved the Mount Rushmore Presidential Memorial. Historian Robert D’Attilio, who attended the Quincy library program, told the gathering that the plaque, sculpted almost 90 years ago, has never been displayed out of doors in a public place. In fact it was never officially accepted by the city of Boston or the state of Massachusetts until 1997, 70 years after the executions. Currently it’s kept on the third floor of the Boston Public Library.
An organization called the Sacco-Vanzetti Memorial Committee is seeking to have it installed on Hanover Street in Boston’s North End neighborhood. The heavily Italian neighborhood was the center of the defense effort in the famous trial, and the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee had its headquarters there.