Dante Alighieri Society

The Dante Alighieri Society Conference – August 1997

The 70th Anniversary of the Execution of Sacco and Vanzetti and the 20th Anniversary of the Proclamation by Governor Michael Dukakis


Judge Peter Agnes


Neil Proto

Following the publication of “Only Silence Is Shame” in the Italian American in 1997, Massachusetts State Court Judge, Peter W. Agnes Jr., invited me to participate in a conference that he was organizing about Sacco and Vanzetti in Cambridge. Judge Agnes was the chairman of the Board of the Dante Alighieri Society of Massachusetts. He had worked in the administration of Governor Michael Dukakis.

Judge Agnes brought to the task a deep passion and knowledge about the insidious harm of unfairness and injustice. His stature and thoughtfulness allowed him to bring together individuals who had thought and written-and portrayed-the deeper legal, cultural, and social meaning of the story.

Judge Agnes also brought to the podium Governor Dukakis, who has a special place in the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti and their families. A copy of the program can be downloaded below. My own responsibility was to present a paper titled “Sacco and Vanzetti: The Literary and Cultural Effects of the Controversy for Their Lives.”


Governor Michael Dukakis

Judge Agnes understood the disquieting political anger that had surrounded Governor Dukakis’s 1977 Proclamation. That anger still existed in 1997. Despite the passage of seventy years since the execution, the intolerance that had tempered the history of the fight for the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti still resonated. On the night of the conference, the Cambridge police felt the need for a visible presence outside the Society’s Hall.


Gutzon Borglum Plague rejected by
Massachusetts’ Governor (1937)

Two days later, on August 23, 1997, Mayor Thomas Menino and Governor Paul Cellucci formally accepted the thrice rejected Gutzon Borglum plaque of Sacco and Vanzetti. The Boston Herald criticized both officials because “it is not at all clear that the trial … was unfair. Gov. Alvin Fuller’s special review commission upheld it.” Other elected officials in Boston added their own criticism. Mayor Menino and Governor Cellucci held firm.

  • Program and Speakers. Dante Alighieri Society of Massachusetts Conference (Cambridge, Mass.: August 21, 1997). Download Program and Speakers.pdf
  • Proto, Neil Thomas. “Sacco and Vanzetti: The Literary and Cultural Effects of the Controversy for Their Lives.” (Cambridge, Mass.: August 21, 1997). Download The Literary and Cultural Effects.DOC
  • Statements of Judge Peter W. Agnes Jr., Mayor Thomas Menino, and the family of Aldino Felicani concerning the acceptance of the Borglum plaque (Boston Public Library, August 23, 1997). Download Statements of Judge Peter.PDF
  • The Gutzon Borglum Plaque and Its Acceptance by Mayor Thomas Menino and Acting Governor Paul Cellucci. Photograph of Mayor Menino, Governor Cellucci, and Neil Proto. (Photograph in author’s possession was taken at the Boston Public Library, August 23, 1997.) Download The Gutzon Borglum Plaque.pdf