I have written of the great Joe Hill before, he is a great inspiration, so on the centenary of his judicial execution, it gives me the opportunity to write about him once more.
Swedish born ( his actual name was Joel Emmanuel Haggland ), he emigrated to New York aged 23, with his brother Paul, after the death of his parents, spending his time as a wandering itinerant and musical troubadour, engaging in the struggles of his time, hopping from one freight train to the next, working as a labourer, washer of dishes, sweeper of floors, moving cargo on docks, picking crops and working in construction. He was later to adopt the name Joe Hill after being blacklisted after trying to start a union in Chicago, he was to become a legend in in his own lifetime because of his actions and deeds.
He also wrote satirical songs to be sung by the people, songs about struggles that he was actively engaged in, using his songs as weapons in the class war that he was engaged in such as There is Power in the Union, The Preacher and the Slave and The Rebel Girl along with hundreds more . He also became a senior organiser of the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW) most commonly known as the wobblies . His aim along with hundreds of other fellow workers and revolutionaries was to emancipate the working classes, creating unity and solidarity under one big union.
He would go to Mexico at the time of the revolution in 1911, fighting with his comrades under a red flag like the true rebel that he was. trying to overthrow the dictator Porfirio Diaz. Next stop onto San Diego in 1912 to support fellow workers protesting against police banning of street meetings. Then onto British Colombia helping organise a national construction strike, then on to San Pedro to help dockworkers. This would lead to the first recorded encounter with the police who arrested him on the charge of vagrancy.
He would inspire many, his fellow workers and comrades, but to the bosses saw him as someone to be feared, someone they considered dangerous, he was in their eyes a marked man.
On the evening of 10th January 1914 in Utah he sought medical treatment for gunshot wounds, he claimed they had been inflicted upon him after quarrel with a man over a woman, and refused to elaborate anymore, earlier that evening in another part of town, a grocer and his son had been shot and killed. One of the assailants was wounded, so Hill's injury implicated him in the incident. Yet despite the uncertainty of witnesses, no one coming forward to identify him as one of the assailants at the scene of the crime no blood of Hills found at the scene a local jury was convinced of his guilt. No physical evidence linking him to the murder he was accused of.
He was scheduled to be shot by firing squad, this caused outrage across the world. an international campaign to exonerate him was launched, from Britain to other European countries and even President Woodrow Wilson calling for a retrial. Those looking at the case eventually declared its willingness to hear testimony from the woman's husband, but Hill loyally refused to identify his alleged assailant in case it damaged the reputation of the lady involved.
Sadly the eventual day came and he was executed and shot down by firing squad on this day 19th November 1915.
Whilst waiting his execution he wrote the following words which were later turned into song :-
My will is easy to decide
for I have nothing to divide
My kin don't need to weep 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 breeze blow
My dust to where some flowers grow
Perhaps some fading flower then
Would soon grow up and grow green again
This is my last and final will
Good luck to all of you, Joe Hill
Among his final words were " Don't mourn , organise "
and just before he was assassinated in reply to a question if he had anything further to say he answered "Fire" unfortunately they did.
Up to 30,000 people would attend his funeral, he was subsequently cremated and his ashes divided into 600 envelopes, that were sent to IWW branches across the globe.
Scenes of Joe Hill's funeral cortege
He would become a martyr for the Labour Movement across the world, who is forever remembered today and tomorrow because he planted a seed upon the earth that still makes the parasites shake, in every place where people organise together his legacy still spins, his power still resonates, as we remember that " an injury to one is an injury to all."
You can't kill the spirit of Joe Hill, this spirit lives on in his songs and in the deeds of men and women across the globe who carries his message forward, in unity and strength, in solidarity forever.
Paul Robeson sings the song Joe Hill
Joe Hill's Preacher and the Slave as sung by Utah Philips
Link to last years with poem dedicated to him, and links to two other posts here :-
Some useful links :-
British and Irish region of the IWW