Joe Hill was a Swedish-American labour activist and songwriter, a member and troubadour of the Industrial Workers of the World. Framed for robbery and murder he was executed by firing squad in November 1915. A decade later, this verse appeared in Labour Defender, monthly magazine of the International Labour Defence.
High, head and back unbending—fearless and true,
Into the night unending; why was it you?
Heart that was quick with song, torn with their lead;
Life that was young and strong, shattered and dead.
Singer of manly songs, laughter and tears;
Singer of Labor's wrongs, joys, hopes and fears.
Though you were one of us, what could we do?
Joe, there were none of us needed like you.
We gave, however, what Life could give;
We would have given all that you might live.
Your death you held as naught, slander and sha-nie;
We from the very thought shrank as from flame.
Each of us held his breath, tense with despair,
You, who were close to death, seemed not to care.
White-handed loathsome power, knowing no pause,
Sinking in labor's flower murderous claws;
Boastful with leering eyes, blood-dripping jaws . . .
Accurst be the cowardice hidden in laws!
Utah has drained your blood; white hands are wet;
We of the "surging flood" NEVER FORGET!
Our songster! have your laws now had their fill?
Know ye, his songs and cause ye cannot kill.
High head and back unbending—"rebel true blue,"
Into the night unending; why was it you
Joe Hill continued to
write songs and poems almost to the
moment of his execution.
His body was shipped to Chicago
where he was cremated in order that
his ashes might be strewn to the winds
as he had wished. His funeral, attended
by tens of thousands of his fellow workers,
was one of the largest ever held in Chicago.
His song, "Workers of the World
Awaken," words and music composed
in prison, is perhaps one of the best
examples of his art:
Workers of the world, awaken!
Break your chains, demand your
All the wealth you make is taken
By exploiting parasites.
Shall you kneel in deep submission?
From your cradles to your graves?
Is the height of your ambition
To be good and willing slaves