Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Sacco and Vanzetti: Rebel Lives

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Sacco and Vanzetti: Rebel Lives

Article excerpt

Sacco and Vanzetti: Rebel Lives. By John Davis, ed. New York: Ocean Books, 2004. 90 pages. $11.95 (paperback).

John Davis's Sacco and Vanzetti: Rebel Lives provides a collection of thought-provoking firsthand accounts of the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti and its aftermath. In the midst of the anti-radical, anti-immigrant and anti-labor first red scare (1919-1920), two anarchist Italian immigrants, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were accused of murder based on questionable evidence. During what a number of observers called "the trial of the century," the two men encountered prosecutorial and judicial misconduct, jingoism, and anti-radical bias. As a result, Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilty, sentenced to death and executed.

The documents in Sacco and Vanzetti: Rebel Lives reflect the many important themes in American history that converged during the ordeal. Historians and activists of the past and present have viewed the treatment of Sacco and Vanzetti as a central example of the powers anti-immigrant, anti-radical and anti-labor ments in early twentieth century America, and, more specifically, of the excesses of post-World War I government-sponsored super-patriotism. Appropriately, the book features primary sources that cover these themes, as well as commentary by activists reflecting on the important legacy of the trial. Each document is well chosen and includes a brief description of its author and/or receptor. Sacco and Vanzetti: Rebel Lives would be a useful and accessible resource for students and scholars interested in the first red scare, jingoism, the labor movement, legal history and the historical memory of radicalism.

Davis's introduction places the arrests and prosecution of Sacco and Vanzetti in the context of the turbulent immediate post-World War I period. In addition to giving an overview of how the first red scare fueled antiradical sentiment, Davis mentions the often overlooked postwar recession as an important factor in shaping public opinion against radicals. Davis also encourages readers to consider how the questions facing America during the trial apply to our own time: how to overcome a society divided between the wealthy and the poor; and how to move past a "with us or against us" mentality that that has posited "mainstream" Americans against radicals, and whites against "non-whites. …

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