Wednesday, November 19, 2014

When all you've got is nothing, there's a lot to go around.

On November 19th, 1915 IWW song writer Joe Hill was executed for a murder he didn't commit.  This is a triple injustice because:
1 An innocent person was executed.
2 The actual murderers (for there were two) went unpunished.
3 The reason he was killed wasn't because of he evidence against him (in fact the police had to pressure a witness from saying that Hill definitely wasn't the murderer to saying that he was) but because he was a union figure.

Various people (the President of the United States, Hellen Keller, and, I think, the Swedish ambassador to the US being the most prominent) called bullshit and tried to get clemency.

Other than being a Wobbly (IWW member) and testimony that the police pressured witnesses into giving, the only evidence was that he was one of four people in the area treated for a bullet wound.  Mind you the nature of the wound showed that he had his hands up at the time, which is a difficult position to murder someone from.

Hill wouldn't say how he got it beyond it being a disagreement about a woman.  It's a good thing I looked this up because I thought the disagreement was that he was having sex with someone's wife and that person took exception.  In fact the woman in question came forward and said that the shooter was her former fiancee.

Hill had no motive and, as noted, the witness said he didn't do it until there was pressure to change that statement.

Hill's last contributions to the world were a letter to an IWW leader:
"Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don't waste any time in mourning. Organize... Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don't want to be found dead in Utah."
and his last will and testament:
My will is easy to decide,
For there is nothing to divide.
My kin don't need to fuss and moan,
"Moss does not cling to a rolling stone." 
My body? Oh, if I could choose
I would to ashes it reduce,
And let the merry breezes blow,
My dust to where some flowers grow. 
Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my Last and final Will.
Good Luck to All of you,
Joe Hill
He was, in fact, found dead in Utah, just not for long.  After his execution by firing squad came his first funeral which was in Salt Lake City.  People were there all day.  By the time the funeral actually started there were several thousand people stuck outside because there was no more room inside.

As soon as the funeral was over he was loaded into a hearse and driven to the railway.  This was accompanied by a procession of over 200 people singing songs Joe Hill had written.

He was loaded onto a train and sent to Chicago.  Chicago had been his original destination.  Utah was only supposed to be a stopover, but he ended up staying for, I believe, two years.

None of this is to say that things were not without problems.  Hill was framed in that the police intimidated witnesses into changing their testimony.  But it probably wan't some anti-union conspiracy as it was made out to be.  The big business people didn't get involved until after the conviction, at which point they strongly pressured that it be upheld, the punishment not commuted or pardoned, and the various people asking for a delay so that the matter could be investigated further be ignored.  They wanted him dead for sure, but there's no evidence to suggest they were responsible for the framing.

A lot of the rhetoric around what happened to Joe Hill is staggeringly anti-Mormon.  That's not good and can't be condoned.

Joe Hill seems to have died for four reasons:
1 He didn't want to name names when it came to the person who shot him and the woman the person shot him about.
2 He was an easy target.  He wasn't just from outside of Utah, he was Swedish.  (Born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund in Gävle; he latter changed his name to Joseph Hillström before settling on Joe Hill.)  He was a union activist in a place where they were pretty well despised.  If you're looking for a scapegoat you can probably convict without fallout, he's perfect.  The people who actually had motives were all locals, some of them in good standing.  There likely would have been backlash had they been charged.
3 AFTER he was sentenced to death business owners started applying pressure to make sure the sentence was carried out.
4 Hill didn't want and refused to work toward a pardon or commutation.  He wanted a new trial.  If he had worked for his sentence to be commuted or to get a pardon it might, and I stress might, have worked.


Ever wonder where the phrase "Pie in the Sky" comes from?  Joe Hill made it up for a song called "The Preacher and the Slave" which is also known as "Long haired preachers".

This is the best version I can currently find online but I could do without the commentary between the first and second verses.  I could especially do without the joke against baptists.

1 comment:

  1. Also, are there no movies about this? There totally should be.