Two Good Hands is a song by Charlie King remembering the good lives and unjust deaths of two Italian immigrants named Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Sacco and Vanzetti were working class, anarchist activists. They were framed on armed robbery and murder charges by the State of Massachusetts and executed on August 23, 1927.
Sacco and Vanzetti were killed by a criminal in-justice system that not only hated their radicalism but despised them for being immigrants and – in the context of WASP Massachusetts society of the 1920′s – people of color. Judge Webster Thayer, mentioned in the song, gave speaking engagements after their trial proudly proclaiming his role in getting Sacco and Venzetti executed, and there were reports of his using racist anti-Italian slurs even during the trial. The song movingly describes Judge Thayer’s bigotry as “speaking to the living in the language of the dead” and its chorus (and the title) come from the words of the speech that Sacco gave at the close of the trial.
Charlie King’s song is a tribute not just to these two good men but to “all the strong arms and hands / That never once found justice / in the hands that rule this land.” When I hear it or think of it, I remember all of the good women and men I have known who were jailed, beaten, executed or just beaten down by a system that values the profits of a few over all else, even human life.
Who will remember Judge Webster Thayer
One hand on the gavel, the other resting on the chair
Who will remember the hateful words he said
Speaking to the living in the language of the dead
And all who know these two good hands
Know they never had to rob or kill
I can live by these two good hands and live well
And all my life I have struggled
To rid the world of all such crimes.
Who will remember the hand upon the switch, that
Took the lives of two good men in the service of the rich
Who will remember the one who gave the nod, or the
Chaplain standing near at hand to invoke the name of God
We will remember this good shoemaker
We will remember this poor fish peddler
We will remember all the strong arms and hands
That never once found justice
in the hands that rule this land
And all who knew these two good men
Knew thay never had to rob or kill
Each had lived by his own two hands
and they had lived well
And all their lives they had struggled
To rid the earth of all such crimes
and all our lives we must struggle
to rid the earth of all such crimes