Eighty-two years ago Sunday two Italian immigrants were executed after a dubious trial for murders someone else later confessed to. Whatever really happened, Ferdinando Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti have come to stand for the greater inequities of American justice.

The pair may have been guilty, as Upton Sinclair is reported to have suspected. But it is difficult to imagine that their status as immigrants, workers and political radicals did not influence their trial, which was later ruled unfair.

And it was because “the unfairness was flagrant,” as historian Howard Zinn put it, that Sacco and Vanzetti’s fate should deeply trouble us all: “The case of Sacco and Vanzetti revealed, in its starkest terms, that the noble words inscribed above our courthouses, ‘Equal Justice Before the Law,’ have always been a lie. Those two men, the fish peddler and the shoemaker, could not get justice in the American system, because justice is not meted out equally to the poor and the rich, the native born and the foreign born, the orthodox and the radical, the white and the person of color.”

Read more of Zinn’s 2007 essay.

Visit the Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration Society.

Fifty years after they were executed in Massachusetts, Gov. Michael Dukakis proclaimed Sacco and Vanzetti were killed without a fair trial. Read a news story from the period here. — PS

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