The Great Trials Podcast

Moshik Temkin | Commonwealth v. Sacco and Vanzetti | The Sacco-Vanzetti Trial

December 28, 2021

This week, your hosts Steve Lowry and Yvonne Godfrey interview Moshik Temkin, Harvard University Associate Professor of History and Public Policy and author of The Sacco-Vanzetti Affair: America on Trial (https://carrcenter.hks.harvard.edu/people/moshik-temkin). 

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Episode Details:

Harvard University Associate Professor of History and Public Policy Moshik Temkin, author of The Sacco-Vanzetti Affair: America on Trial, discusses the larger implications of this 1920s Massachusetts murder trial and how its proceedings and subsequent international post-verdict protests revealed the U.S. justice system's implicit bias against immigrants. On April 15, 1920, an armed robbery was committed at the Slater-Morrill Shoe Company in Braintree, Massachusetts, resulting in the death of two guards and the theft of at least $15,000 in payroll funds. Italian immigrant anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were accused and charged with first-degree murder. The pair's anarchists beliefs, advocating for the violent overthrow of political and capitalist institutions, and evasion of the World War I draft took center stage at the trial, overshadowing missing and contradictory evidence in the case. Influenced by presiding Judge Webster Thayer's obvious bias, which included calling the defendants "anarchist bastards," as well as the jury foreperson's publicly expressed predetermined verdict, Sacco and Vanzetti were sentenced to death. Worldwide, labor unions held protests and acclaimed writers and political influencers spoke out in support of Sacco and Vanzetti. The pair, who were widely seen as political prisoners, were executed in the electric chair on August 23, 1927. On today's new episode, author and historian Moshik Temkin will share what his extensive research has revealed about this infamous case and the resulting international protests. Learn how this legendary trial impacted global politics and resulted in lasting judicial reform. 

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Guest Bio:

Moshik Temkin:

Moshik Temkin, Associate Professor of History and Public Policy, joined the Harvard Kennedy School faculty in 2009. A specialist in the history of the modern United States in global and comparative perspective, with a focus on the connections between history and public policy, he is particularly interested in the interaction between Americans and non-Americans–the effects that American politics have had on the wider world, the roles that international politics have played in American society and policymaking in the United States, and the dynamics created when American and international politics come into contact, or conflict.

He is the author of The Sacco-Vanzetti Affair: America on Trial (Yale University Press, 2011), which was a finalist for the Cundill International Prize, as well as several articles and book chapters. His current research interests include the history of the death penalty in comparative perspective, the impact of war on public policy intellectuals since World War I, Malcolm X's career and politics in a global context, the relationship between American civil rights and global human rights, and the contest between global political activism and travel control since the Cold War. He is currently at work on a book provisionally titled Undesirables: Travel Control and Surveillance in an Age of Global Politics, to be published by Harvard University Press. He is also the editor (with David Greenberg and Mason Williams) of Alan Brinkley: A Life in History (Columbia University Press, 2019).

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Free Resources:

Stages Of A Jury Trial - Part 1

Stages Of A Jury Trial - Part 2

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