Presentation on theme: "Joe Hill (Joe Hilstrom) 7 October 1879 - 19 November 1915."— Presentation transcript:
Joe Hill (Joe Hilstrom) 7 October 1879 - 19 November 1915
Joe Hill was born in Sweden to parents who were both musicians. He came to the United States in 1902. He was originally names Joel Emmanuel Haggland. Soon after arriving in the U.S., he became a drifter and traveled around the country. He began to call himself “Joseph Hillstrom” somewhere between 1906 and 1910, perhaps due to some legal trouble.
During his drifting travels in the U.S., Joseph Hillstrom became disillusioned with this nation. He saw life as desperate here for most common people. He saw the working poor as economic prisoners held captive by a small wealthy elite. In San Pedro, California, apparently while working on the docks, he became associated with a group of labor agitators who called themselves the “Industrial Workers of the World” (I.W.W.). Informally, they became known as the “Wobblies.” Joe Hillstrom became their secretary.
In 1910, in a letter written for the Industrial Worker, an I.W.W. newspaper, Joe Hillstrom identified himself as “Joe Hill,” the name he would continue to use to his death. Joe Hill became a famous union organizer, often entering very risky situations. Legends have him participating in I.W.W. activities nearly everywhere, sometimes in more than one place at the same time.
But the legends do covey one truth. Even if Joe Hill was not physically at a particular location during an I.W.W. activity, he was nonetheless there in song. Joe Hill wrote many labor songs, and virtually everyone involved in the labor struggles at the turn of the century knew and sung these songs. The songs were sometimes completely original in music and verse, while some songs borrowed existing music. All the lyrics were always Joe’s.
Joe Hill’s songs were generally very militant. His songs were collected in the I..W.W.’s Little Red Songbook. Near the end of his life, Joe traveled to Utah. While he was there, a robbery occurred and two people died. One was John Morrison, the store owner and former police officer in Salt Lake City. There was a suspicion that one of the robbers might have been wounded in the gunfire.
As it happens, Joe Hill went to the doctor about that time to be treated for a gunshot wound that he said he received in a fight over a virtuous maiden. The police arrested him based on this coincidence. He was tried and executed. There was a national campaign to obtain his release, including a plea from the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson.
Joe Hill became a martyr for the union cause. While awaiting execution (by firing squad), Hill urged people not to morn for him, but to organize. Thus, his own writings suggest that he was aware that he was about to become a martyr, and that he might have consciously encouraged this. It is hard to underestimate his symbolic value to the early labor movement in the U.S.
Other big names in the early labor movement are: William D. Haywood Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Mother Jones Samuel Gompers
Joe Hill has been ranked with Beatle John Lennon, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan as among the four greatest protest songwriters of the 20th century. Some music has also been written that was inspired by Joe Hill, such as the song with his name that used the poem by Alfred Hayes, “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill.” This song was sung (most notably) by Paul Robeson and Joan Baez (at different times).
Here are a few of his more famous songs: Casey Jones - The Union Scab Mr. Block The Preacher and the Slave The Rebel Girl There is Power in a Union Where the Fraser River Flows Workers of the World, Awaken