November 19 marks the 100-year anniversary of Joe Hill’s execution by a Utah firing squad for a sensationalized Salt Lake City double homicide. Hill, a 36-year-old Swedish immigrant, was an itinerant laborer and union organizer for the Wobblies – the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Today most historians view Hill’s arrest as a police frame-up and consider his trial and execution as, at the least, a politically motivated miscarriage of justice, if not outright judicial murder.
Hill’s mythic stature continues to serve as the soul of the struggle for workers’ rights and economic equality, and interest in his life shows no sign of abating — a phenomenon that is reflected in the ongoing yearlong series of exhibits, book events and concerts commemorating his death.
Joe Hill, of course, was no ordinary organizer but also a poet and balladeer whose knack for taking a well-known hymn or folksong,