Good Guy Or Bad Guy? Utah’s Labor Day Real Life Hero, Joe Hill
With Labor Day coming up on Monday, I was happy to get an email from the folks at Axios Salt Lake City that made me aware of a Labor Day hero (or anti-hero, depending on what you believe) named Joe Hill.
In Utah's labor history, one figure gained immortality in story and song: the Wobbly martyr Joe Hill. The laborer-turned-troubadour was executed by firing squad at the old Sugar House prison in 1915, but his music and poetry live on. Joe Hill was a minor and organizer with the International Workers of the World — a.k.a. the "Wobblies" — when police arrested him in 1914 after a grocery store shoot-out that left the owner (and his son) dead. The circumstantial case against Hill was fairly strong: He also was shot that night, and he more or less matched witness descriptions of the killer. There was some forensic evidence in Hill's favor and signs of bias during his trial. After Hill was convicted and sentenced to die, pleas for clemency poured into Utah from union leaders, the Swedish embassy, Helen Keller and even President Woodrow Wilson. His attorneys argued he was targeted because of his union leadership and fame as a writer of protest songs.
Though Hill may or may not have been a murderer, his songs (and songs about him) are widely performed to this day. He was known as a musician/songwriter that had a sensitivity to the everyman and was a strong proponent of the American worker. He was the troubadour that represented the International Workers of the Word (IWW) in Utah.
For a great read, go to the Salt Lake Tribune's thorough account of Joe Hill's life.
The folks at Axios Salt Lake City compiled a Spotify playlist of songs by or about Joe Hill. Click here to go to it (requires Spotify account). .
Notably, Hill coined the term "pie in the sky" in the song "The Preacher and the Slave."
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