Community Church of Boston Sacco-Vanzetti Memorial and Award Since 1976

By Carol Adams and Rev. David Carl Olson

The Sacco-Vanzetti Memorial Sculpture

The Community Church of Boston is proud to have one of three existing castings of the Sacco-Vanzetti memorial bas relief by noted sculptor Gutzon Borglum, creator of the Mount Rushmore presidential sculpture in South Dakota. The sculpture is on display in Lothrop Auditorium on the second floor of the Community Church Center at 565 Boylston Street in Copley Square, Boston.

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian immigrants and avowed anarchists, who were convicted in 1923 for a pair of murders during an armed robbery in Braintree, although their alibis placed them far from the robbery. Borglum wrote, ?If two innocent men have been electrocuted under order of the American courts, much as I love my country and always shall, . . . I will do anything I can to make the martyrdom of these men a burning, living protest against the injustice practiced in the name of modern jurisprudence!?

The piece was inspired by and carries in its image the words written by Vanzetti on the last day of his life: ?What I wish more than all in this last hour of agony is that our case and our fate may be understood in their real being and serve as a tremendous lesson to the forces of freedom so that our suffering and death will not have been in vain.? The bas relief is an aluminum casting of the original first draft created in plaster by Borglum. That plaster sculpture is on display in the Rare Book Room of the Boston Public Library along with the death masks of Sacco and Vanzetti, other memorabilia, and the records of Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee.

Worldwide protest accompanied the arrests of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1920, and attention to the case grew after their 1923 convictions. During their unsuccessful appeals and in the period leading to their executions on August 23, 1927, artists throughout America, in Italy and throughout the world protested the proposed action of the state against two individuals whose political views were opposed to those of the establishment.

After the executions, the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee proposed that a memorial building, named Freedom House, might be erected in the vicinity of the Massachusetts State House in Boston to continue the research and advocacy around Sacco and Vanzetti and other individuals who have not found justice at the hands of the American judicial system. At the suggestion of Gardner Jackson, friend of Borglum and Secretary of the Defense Committee, Borglum created the bas relief to encourage subscriptions to underwrite the cost of creating Freedom House. The plaster rendering, a first draft of the proposed sculpture, was unveiled at the Sacco-Vanzetti Memorial Meeting of August 23, 1928. Borglum completed the final sculpture in bronze in 1930.

When plans for the memorial building did not materialize, the Memorial Committee sought to have the sculpture erected in a public place. It was offered to both the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts in 1937 on the tenth anniversary of the executions. The committee never received a formal reply or acknowledgement of this offer, though it was reported that then Governor Hurley considered the offer ?absurd,? and protested viewing the men as ?martyrs.? The offer was renewed in 1947 unsuccessfully, even though such luminaries as Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt urged its acceptance. The offer was rejected again in 1957.

In 1960, in a garage workshop that was being renovated, the plaster cast was found by a now unknown dustman and given to Aldino Felicani, a leader of the Defense Committee and North End printer who printed the church programs of the Community Church of Boston. Felicani requested that Community Church provide a home for the plaster sculpture, and the church accepted the work ?on permanent loan.?

In 1977, Governor Michael S. Dukakis issued a proclamation declaring that Sacco and Vanzetti had not received a fair trial and advocated that ?any stigma and disgrace should be forever removed? from their names. The Boston Public Library received the Aldino Felicani Collection of materials from the defense committee. The plaster first draft was claimed as part of that collection.

However, the final version bronze sculpture, which had been photographed but never publicly exhibited, and which was thought to have remained in storage at the Borglum estate in Connecticut, was discovered to have mysteriously disappeared.

The Boston Public Library held a major symposium on the Sacco Vanzetti case in 1979, and the church was invited to participate. In anticipation of the transfer of the plaster bas relief to the library, three metal castings were made at the Sutherland foundry in Woburn, Massachusetts during the summer of 1979. Finishing was completed by Honorcraft of Braintree, Massachusetts, and the work was installed in Lothrop Auditorium by Joe Fish and Don Batchelder. The Borglum Historical Center in Keystone, South Dakota, which partially funded the Community Church casting, contains a casting in bronze. When Community Church?s casting was being done in aluminum, an additional aluminum casting was made which now hangs in the Jackson Reading Room at the library of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

In 1997, on the seventieth anniversary of the executions, Boston?s first Italian-American mayor, Thomas Menino, accompanied by Governor A. Paul Cellucci, formally accepted the plaster sculpture for the city of Boston and pledged that a bronze casting would be erected in a public location in the city. Due to the perceived fragility of the plaster, the Community Church of Boston has agreed to loan its aluminum casting to the city for the purpose of creating the new work in bronze. The press conferences accompanying the 1997 announcement indicated that the newly cast work would be unveiled in the year 2000.

The Sacco-Vanzetti Memorial Award

In virtually each year since 1976, the Community Church of Boston has presented the Sacco-Vanzetti Memorial Award for Contributions to Social Justice to outstanding activists in the peoples? struggles.

The following recipients have been recognized:

1976 William M. Kunstler
1977 Florence H. Luscombe
1978 Scott and Helen Nearing
1979 William L. Patterson
1980 Willard Uphaus
1981 Roger N. Baldwin
1982 Sara R. Ehrman
1983 Eddie James Carthan
1984 Cynthia Anthonsen Foster
1985 Donald G. Lothrop
1986 Cesar Chavez
1987 Mildred S. Olmsted
1988 Truman J. Nelson
1989 Anna H. Morgan
1990 Martin N. Gopen
1992 Leonard Peltier
1993 Margaret F. and Daniel B. Schirmer
1994 Juanita and Wally Nelson
1995 Elizabeth Peterson and David Dellinger
1996 Dirk J. Struik
1997 Anne Burlak Timpson
1998 School of the Americas Watch, received by Nicholas C. Cardell
1999 David Rothauser and Charlie King
2000 Howard Zinn
2001 Ruth Hamilton
2002 Harry Landfield and Jane Polley
2003 Rachel Corrie