In Search Of Sacco And Vanzetti

    
BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

"The polarization that set the Sacco-Vanzetti case at the fault line of liberalism and conservatism in America endures and deepens. Edmund Wilson said in 1928 that the case 'revealed the whole anatomy of American life...and it raised almost every fundamental question of our political and social system.' It still does."

This is how Susan Tejada concludes her new book, IN SEARCH OF SACCO AND VANZETTI--DOUBLE LIVES, TROUBLED TIMES, AND THE MASSACHUSETTS MURDER CASE THAT SHOOK THE WORLD (University Press of New England).

Much has been written about the two Italian-born workers and anarchists who, in 1920, were put on trial for the robbery and murder of a pay clerk and a bodyguard in Braintree, Mass. The trial and its aftermath ended up on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, not only in the USA but Europe and elsewhere. Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilty of murder and were put to death--in one of the first American electric chairs--in 1927. Both men went to the grave protesting their innocence, with countless thousands of workers, lawyers, industrialists and intellectuals expressing solidarity with them at mass rallies and meetings. A public image of Sacco and Vanzetti was formed--"the good shoemaker" and "the poor fish peddler"--and it still persists to this day, with the two men symbolizing the plight of little men crushed by the implacable forces of the class system (represented by Webster Thayer, an immigrant-hating judge whose prejudicial court behavior shocked even many of his own colleagues and friends).

Tejada has spent many years investigating the case, poring over trial transcripts, reading the published and unpublished letters of the accused, interviewing the descendants of some of those who were involved in the trial.

"Beyond the screeds of partisans on both sides of the divide, beyond a reasonable doubt, we still know only pieces of the truth about Sacco and Vanzetti," Tejada confesses in a final chapter. "The whole truth remains exasperatingly elusive. The guilt of Sacco and Vanzetti seems unlikely, but neither their guilt nor their innocence can be proven. The case is still an unsolved mystery."

Tejada is to be commended for her diligence, objectivity and lively writing style; it's just a pity that she couldn't find the smoking gun that would have finally brought closure to the Sacco and Vanzetti controversy.