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January 19: Dreaming of Joe Hill

Lawrence Bush
January 19, 2010

alfred hayesOn this day in 1915, IWW organizer Joe Hill (not Jewish) was arrested for murder in Salt Lake City. His trial was considered a frame-up and his conviction was widely protested (by Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller, among others). A writer of labor songs and parodies, Joe Hill was himself immortalized in 1930 in a poem by Alfred Hayes (Haas), “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night,” set to music by Earl Robinson in 1936. Hayes was born to Jewish parents in London in 1911. He was an active radical until he became disillusioned with communism in the 1930s; in the 1960s he was a television writer for the “Alfred Hitchcock Hour” and other shows. Joe Hill’s last will and testament, written the night before Hill was executed by firing squad, was also set to music, in 1961, by Ethel Raim, a founder of New York’s Balkan Arts Center (now the Center for Traditional Music and Dance).
“‘From San Diego up to Maine,
In every mine and mill,
Where workers strike and organize,’
Says he, ‘You’ll find Joe Hill.’
Says he, ‘You’ll find Joe Hill.’” —Alfred Hayes

Watch Bruce Springsteen sing “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” below.

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.