Why Did a Shoemaker and a Fish Peddler Made Front Page News in 1920s?

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Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were a shoemaker and a fish peddler whose executions on August 23rd, 1927 made front-page news in the popular newspaper, The New York Times.

Sacco and Vanzetti
Sacco and Vanzetti after they have been arrested. Photo By Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

On May 5th, 1920, these two men were arrested under suspicion of the murders of a shoe factory paymaster and his friend. The evidence against the two accused was circumstantial, but this did not stop the jury from convicting Sacco and Vanzetti of murder.

Were They Really Behind the Murders?

Something doesn’t seem to add up here. Many people doubted the fact that Sacco and Vanzetti had murdered the two men in question. For starters, neither of them had a criminal track record.

Sacco and Vanzetti in Dedham with their lawyers
Sacco and Vanzetti in Dedham with their lawyers. Photo By Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

What’s more, a known criminal had even confessed to the stated crime! The shoemaker and the fish peddler submitted appeal after appeal, all of which were ultimately rejected. They were finally sentenced to death in 1927. But did they commit the crime?

At the Wrong Place and at the Wrong Time

Several people believe that Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted because they were Italian immigrants who belonged to the anarchist group. The US government was strictly cracking down on these groups during the 1920s.

Sacco and Vanzetti in Dedham
Photo By Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Unfortunately, the judge to whom these two men had submitted appeals had been an open anarchist-hater. And the justice system wished two to use Sacco and Vanzetti as an example of what would happen to anarchists in the country.

Sacco and Vanzetti Become Martyrs

The execution of these two innocent men led to a huge number of protests across the world. People in Latin America, Western Europe, Morocco, and even China began to march against the injustice that had been doled out.

Demonstration of support for Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927
Demonstration of support for Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927. Photo by KEYSTONE-FRANCE / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Edna St Vincent Millay, a Pulitzer-prize-winning poet, wrote a poem to honor Sacco and Vanzetti’s injustice.

A Radical Shift in the Cultural and Legal System

The protests that were fuelled by the wrongful conviction of Sacco and Vanzetti led to several cultural and legal changes in Massachusetts and New York.

Sacco and Vanzetti First Page
first page from ‘La Stampa’ with the announcement of Sacco and Vanzetti execution. Photo by Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images

Legal procedure was changed to allow future defendants to appeal to different judges, while Woody Guthrie’s song, “Vanzetti’s letter,” immortalized the two men in popular culture. In 1977 it was officially recognized their innocence.