Joe Hill

By: Luc Sante
October 7, 2009

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JOE HILL (Joel Emmanuel Haaglund, 1882-1915) immigrated from Sweden in 1902 and not long after joined the Industrial Workers of the World. He became an organizer, fought in the Mexican Revolution, and was celebrated for fitting new lyrics to old songs; in one of them he coined the phrase “pie in the sky.” He turned up in Salt Lake City in 1913, and the following January was arrested and charged with the killing of a shopkeeper and his son in the course of a robbery. The trial was notable for the enormous holes in both sides’ cases. Hill was convicted, and despite a massive worldwide campaign was executed by firing squad in November 1915. His farewell letter to IWW founder Big Bill Haywood jumped him from beatified to sainted: “I die a true blue rebel. Don’t waste time in mourning. Organize.” His ashes were divided into many envelopes, which were scattered around the world, and for decades his name was invoked by the faithful. “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you or me,” was sung on real and imagined barricades everywhere. The disappearance of the left in recent years has endangered his memory, and that of his cause.

MORE ACTIVISTS: Mother Jones | Alexander Berkman | Eugene V. Debs | Tina Modotti | Big Bill Haywood | Lucy Stone | Antônio Conselheiro | Emmeline Pankhurst | Félix Fénéon | Meridel Le Sueur | Pierre-Joseph Proudhon | Zo d’Axa | Mikhail Bakunin | Voltairine de Cleyre | Emma Goldman | Will Allen | Rosa Luxemburg | Simone de Beauvoir | Émile Henry | Pancho Villa | Joe Hill | Margaret Sanger | Aldo Leopold | Screaming Lord Sutch | Nestor Makhno | Dorothy Day | Garry Kasparov | Adriano Olivetti | Mildred Harnack | Frederick Douglass | Murray Bookchin | George Orwell | Bayard Rustin | Abbie Hoffman | Ti-Grace Atkinson | Gloria Steinem | Rudolf Rocker | Stokely Carmichael | Angela Davis

HILO HERO ITEMS by LUC SANTE: Dashiell Hammett | Pancho Villa | James M. Cain | Georges Bataille | Félix Fénéon | Émile Henry | A.J. Liebling | Jim Thompson | Joe Hill | Nestor Makhno | Hans Magnus Enzensberger | Captain Beefheart | William Burroughs | Ring Lardner | Lee “Scratch” Perry | Serge Gainsbourg | Kathy Acker | Arthur Cravan | Weegee | Alexander Trocchi | Ronnie Biggs | George Ade | Georges Darien | Zo d’Axa | Petrus Borel | Blaise Cendrars | Alexandre Jacob | Constance Rourke | Damia | J-P Manchette | Jean-Paul Clebert | Pierre Mac Orlan | Comte De Lautreamont | André Breton | Robert Desnos | Arthur Rimbaud |

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Joe Hill, Dan Savage.

READ MORE about members of the Psychonaut Generation (1874–1883).

Categories

Activism, HiLo Heroes

What do you think?

  1. Joe Hill did function as an popular icon within Earth First! and the direct-action environmental movement of the late 1990s, up to and beyond the Seattle WTO protests of 1999. He was particularly beloved among the neo-hobo freight-hoppers who traveled the country from protest to protest in those years … and perhaps still do.

  2. Thanks, Leslie. No offense, but if I measure Earth First and the like against the long history of integral popular struggle of which the IWW was a part, I feel like that French general watching the battle of Balaklava who said, “C’est beau, mais ce n’est pas la guerre.”

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