Hill, Joe or Joseph Hillstrom

Hill, Joe (b. Joel Emmanuel Hägglund) or Joseph Hillstrom

(1879–1915) labor leader, songwriter; born in Gäyle, Sweden. Little is known of his early life (even his Swedish name is in dispute), but he apparently worked as a seaman and arrived in the U.S.A. about 1901. Joining the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) ("Wobblies") in 1910, he participated in organizing and strike actions in California and Mexico. While he seems to have led a hobo-like existence, he contributed letters and essays to the Wobblies' publications. He also became known for his protest songs—especially "The Preacher and the Slave," which introduced the phrase "pie in the sky"; these were collected in The Little Red Song Book. Arrested for double murder in Salt Lake City (1914) and convicted on dubious evidence, he was executed by a firing squad despite international protests. The night before his death he told “Big Bill” Haywood, "Don't waste any time in mourning. Organize." His body was cremated and its ashes were distributed to IWW locals all over the world. He was one of the best-known "martyrs" of the radical labor movement, which would adopt as one of its anthems, "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night" (words by Alfred Hayes, music by Earl Robinson).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.