Speak Your Piece | 12: Season 1, Ep. 12 (Part 2): Joe Hill (1879-1915): Labor Troubadour, Union Organizer & Execution in Utah

Date:  02.10.2020 (Season 1, Ep. 12; 36:41 minutes and 27:12 minutes (two segments). To read the complete Speak Your Piece shownotes for this episode click here.  

Summary: Former Salt Lake Tribune Photo Editor Jeromy Harmon, breaks down Joe Hills’ crime (the murder of a grocer and his son on 773 South West Temple), his likely unwarrented arrest, the threat he and labor unions represented to Utah early 20th century power structure, Hill’s trial, the many letters of appeal from around the world, and his unstoppable execution at the Utah State Penitentiary.

Harmon also describes a bevy of recently discovered sources, his and others hypotheses regarding why Hill did not defend himself during the trial, and whom he was likely protecting. Spoiler alert: it appears to have been a married woman, along with his Swedish and labor union friends.

Harmon and Westwood speak of the backdrop of early 20th century industries, the world of cheap immigrant labor (Hill was a Swedish immigrant) and how thousands of such immigrants worked in Utah’s railroad, factories, mines and smelters. Harmon describes the growth of the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World, who maintained an office in Salt Lake City), the murder of another immigrant laborer some two weeks prior that now adds new insights as to why Hill was eventually arrested. The best sources and books on Hill are also described, including the Salt Lake Tribune’s website “The Legacy of Joe Hill.”  Finally, Harmon urges listeners not to read Pulitzer Prize winner Wallace Stegner’s book Joe Hill (1969, described as a “biographical novel”) which he believes has done more harm than any other written source; notwithstanding the book’s popular literary value.

Guest Biography: Bio:
Jeremy Harmon is the former Salt Lake Tribune Director of Photography (2007-2021). He is now the Director of Photography for The Tennessian and for the southeastern USA Today Nework.

Harmon developed during the last eight years a keen interest—following the well-established (but not so often followed in the digital world) journalistic tradition—of investigating and securing hard evidence. Harmon, and other Salt Lake Tribune reporters, have tracked down newspaper accounts, correspondence, records, prison records, federal records and union records, all concerning Joe Hill and his execution in Utah.

URLs (book purchase links, associated exhibit, products, links, etc.)

The Salt Lake Tribunes “The Legacy of Joe Hill,” website includes a most assessable collection of accounts, primary sources, photographs, renditions of Hill’s labor songs, and much more.

Harmon’s Pics: Buy them on-line or order a copy from your local bookstore.

  • Franklin Rosemont, Joe Hill: The IWW and the Making of a Revolutionary Working Class Counterculture; Chicago: Charles H Kerr, 2003. [The book is a deep dive into the history of radical labor and how Joe Hill became an international icon for the labor movement.]
  • William M. Adler, The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon; New York: Bloomsbury, 2011. 
  • Gibbs M Smith, Labor Martyr: Joe Hill; Layton, Utah: Peregrine Smith Books, 1969. [The book that started it all, written by one of Utah’s most important 20th century public intellectuals and a cofounder of Gibbs Smith Publishers].

Do you have a question or comment? Write us at “ask a ” – askahistorian@utah.gov 

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