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August 25, 2015 @ 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
“From Marginalized Worker to Martyr: Joe Hill, the IWW and Utah, 1915-2015”
On November 19, 1915, Joe Hill, an organizer, songwriter and cartoonist for the radical Industrial Workers of the World, was executed for the murder of a Salt Lake City grocer and his son. Hill went to his death denying his guilt. For more than a year, thousands of people had mounted a campaign to not only save his life, but prove his innocence. Many believed he was being “framed” for his radical views, not because he was guilty. Others thought he was not only guilty, but posed a threat to prevailing American values. His case, and the efforts to save him, gained worldwide attention, and Hill became a symbol for those concerned with the power of the state over the lives of individuals.
John Sillito will give a presentation on the life and legacy of Joe Hill, by examining the chronology of the case, Hill’s defense, the reasons given by the state of Utah to prove his guilt. He will present the way he went from being a marginalized worker—part of the wave of immigrants to America in the late 19th century—to a labor martyr. At some point, Hill came to believe—as others had concluded throughout history—that, despite proclaiming his innocence, he was more useful to his cause as a dead martyr than a free man.
Sillito has studied this case for more than forty-five years. Joe Hill’s case has much to say about the tension between radicalism and mainstream views in the early twentieth century, and helps us better understand the history of Utah and, indeed, the United States itself, in a crucial period of history.
John Sillito is Emeritus Professor of Libraries at Weber State University, Ogden, Utah, and currently teaches as an adjunct in the Weber State University History Department. He is currently a member of the board of editors of the Utah Historical Quarterly. He is the editor of History’s Apprentice: The Diaries of B. H. Roberts, 1880-98, A World We Thought We Knew: Readings in Utah History, and his most recent book, co-authored with John McCormick, A History of Utah Radicalism: Startling, Socialistic and Decidedly Revolutionary. He resides in Ogden, Utah.