This post was written by Anne Berard, Reference & Outreach Librarian, Milford Town Library
Say the names of the infamous duo, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker and most people immediately think of the bank-robbing couple and their fatal shootout with police. Their guilt and defiance were never in doubt for either the public or the law. Another of history’s infamous duos, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, conjures up far more complicated associations. There’s the 1920 armed robbery and double murder at a shoe company in Braintree, the contentious trial in Dedham with blatant anti-immigrant bias and a hostile judge, the lengthy incarceration in Charlestown, and finally, their execution in 1927.
The case of these two Italian-American anarchists gripped the nation and the world in real time and has continued to be debated and studied by scholars nearly 100 years later. The Aldino Felicani Sacco-Vanzetti Collection available via Digital Commonwealth is a massive compilation of photographs, court documents, correspondence, and protest materials all related to Sacco and Vanzetti. More than 1000 items are available for either browsing by topic or for doing a deep dive into the world of these men. Governor Michael Dukakis in 1977 – on the 50th anniversary of their execution – issued a proclamation in both English and Italian stating that the pair had not received a fair trial and that lessons should be learned from their unusual case.
Among the most poignant pages in the collection are the hundreds of letters Sacco and Vanzetti wrote to their families, compadres, and each other while imprisoned. Also worth a look for the sheer size of the crowds are the photographs of their funeral procession where over 200,000 people poured into Boston streets in a show of solidarity with the men. The funeral route passed by the State House before arriving at Forest Hills Cemetery where the bodies were cremated.
After being sentenced to death by electric chair by Judge Thayer, Nicola Sacco spoke out in court, declaring, “You know I am innocent. Those are the same words I pronounced seven years ago. You condemn two innocent men.”