Joe Hill the workers martyr was executed by firing squad, today on November 19th , 1915, framed for a murder that many believe he did not commit.An innocent man condemned to death for his passion. Many historians have come to recognise it as one of the worst travesties of Justice in American history. After a trial that was riddled with biased rulings and suppression of important defence evidence and other violations of judicial procedure, which was characteristic of many cases involving labour radicals. A guard reported that at about 10.pm, Joe Hill handed him a poem, through the bars of his cell. It was his last will, which has since become a prized piece of poetry in the heritage of the American Labour Movement.
Born Joel Emmanuel Hagglund in Sweden, he emigrated to the United States in 1902, where he changed his name to Joseph Hillstrom. After several years as an itinerant worker - a 'hobo' he joined the IWW (The International Workers of the World) . A wobbly organiser, balladeer, he was also a man of pride, the flag that he proudly followed was was one of international solidarity.
On the same day that he was executed he sent a telegram to fellow International Worker of the World (IWW), Bill Hayword, telling him "Don't waste time mourning , Organise!" An estimated 30,000 people attended his funeral in an impressive 'singing demonstration' under the banner ' In Memorium - Joe Hill - Murdered by the Capitalist Class. A rebel to the core, his voice still rings out loud and clear, venerated and celebrated.
Joe Hill's Last Will
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
Joe Hill's Last Will - Utah Phillips
Paul Robeson - Joe Hill
( one of the most stirring, emotional versions of this song I know.)