On his elevation beneath the purple canopy--stretched
by another generation--in his solemn high-backed chair behind
the huge table laden with law books sat the Judge, the almighty
of the hour.
It was the afternoon of the seventh of July, in the Federal court-room situated on the fourth floor of the old Post-office Building in New York.
City Hall Square below was crowded with
thousands of people who had assembled to witness the spectacle
of the City fathers welcoming the Russian Commission on the steps
of the City Hall, just across the square. The Russian tricolor
in close embrace with the Stars and Stripes flew from buildings
and flagpoles. It was a sunshiny, jubilant afternoon, the Friday
which the people of New York had chosen to show their love for
the new Russian democracy and to try Emma Goldman and Alexander
Berkman for conspiracy.
From the windows of the court-room we could
see the festive procession, the waving of flags, the enthusiastic
faces that hailed the dawn of a new era, we could hear the music
of the band playing that grandest of all songs of liberty, "The
Marseillaise," and the cheering of the crowds, who, in the
bottom of their hearts, believe in freedom. But the people of
New York could not look into the court-room on the fourth floor
of the Post-office Building and could not hear the cry of strangled
Liberty, nor the strains of the dreadful litany that tells of
prison and punishment and death.
The air was heavy, the audience quiet and
subdued, the soldiers in their uniforms among the spectators watchful
and defiant. The court attendants in their blue uniforms and shining
badges used both gestures and looks to intimidate the awed spectators.
Officers were posted at the doors to refuse admissions to the
people of New York who tried to get in.
I sat there at the press table amidst the
representatives of our daily papers. Some were older men who followed
the proceedings with the mellow superiority of experience. Young
reporters were busy making notes, which would never be published.
And there, opposite me, sat Alexander Berkman. A strong, fighting face; decision and action written all over him. Around his mouth plays the tired smile of the fighter who knows what it means to meet stupidity face to face. His hands are clenched, he is armed against attacks and lies, against rudeness and against injustice. He has come to fight. He does not know how to compromise. He does not know how to bow politely to the court, how to invoke in flowery language the attention of the District Attorney or how to arouse the sympathetic interest of his peers--the jurymen. The principles for which he is fighting, which brought about his indictment, are now his only weapons and his only shield. He is a non-conformist who believes in liberty and in freedom uncurtailed in any way.
My memory goes back a few years. I see the
very same man surrounded by little children, laughing and merry-making
with them. I see him amidst the pupils of the Ferrer School, telling
them fairy-tales and admonishing them always to remain brothers
and sisters after they have left school and grown up to be adults.
There is Emma Goldman, sitting behind him.
I don't see hatred in her eyes but determination; to do to the
last minute what she thinks so important for the happiness of
future generations. She is reading some report introduced as evidence
by the District Attorney. There is a grave seriousness on her
features and that wonderful, final resolve that has ever--since
time began--caused men to be crucified, to be burned alive, hung,
drawn and quartered; the resolve and purpose which have brought
to humanity all the good things it possesses.
There is the jury! Twelve men representing
the people of New York; the peers of the defendants! I look at
their faces: some are old men, some are middle-aged, some are
baldheaded and some have gray, black or blonde hair. Some have
mustaches and others have not. Some have pepper-and-salt colored
suits, others wear suits of brown, black or light-gray. Sometimes
they look at the defendants. When they do, it is not for long.
It is the casual look at something repulsive, at something that
one might be curious enough to look at though one knows that it
is bad because it is so different from what newspapers print and
These representatives of the people of New
York let their eyes rest with an expression of content upon the
District Attorney, that Archangel who guards the gates of their
Paradise. Some of the jurors dare, now and then, to glance shyly
up at the judge's throne beneath the purple canopy.
His Honor seems uncomfortable in the clear
rays of the sun which pour in through the shining window panes
onto his face. He must face the sun because his duty compels him
also to face the jury and the defendants. He is seated and only
his head can be seen above the table, his head on his broad shoulders.
A thick, sensitive upper lip, between nose and forehead an angle
of about 160 degrees, a small chin, big jaws, his eyes hard, not
by experience but by purpose. He seems to me to be a man who would
really go and do what you bade him do or what he thought was expected
Now he rises. The black toga of his office
seems too heavy upon his shoulders and he throws it back with
a tired gesture. Or does he feel too warm? His arms are very short
and he is a little man.
I try to read his face. I am very near him.
I search for something in his eyes. Nothing is written upon his
face, nothing in his eyes.
The witnesses! Everybody in the court-room
knows that the District Attorney must prove what the witnesses
have to answer, what the jurymen must decide in their minds, what
the Judge will pronounce as sentence. . . a dreadful monotony--an
iron ring presses tighter and tighter around our heads.
The District Attorney is reading part of
a speech delivered by Emma Goldman to the effect that the people
themselves should be called upon to decide whether there should
be war or not: the same thing one reads in the New York American
editorials. A witness is swearing that he has heard her utter
such sentences. And, like mockery, from across the Square come
the sounds of "The Marseillaise," played in honor of
the Russian rebels, guests of the people of New York.
And now! "The Star Spangled Banner."
Life comes into the Judge. He rises. He gesticulates wildly with
his short arms: "Everybody must rise in the room," he
shouts, with a voice which seems unused to give command. The soldiers
poke their neighbors, court attendants run about the room pushing
men and women into patriotic attention. Some persons refuse to
get up. The Judge excitedly issues orders. The objectors are dragged
out. Everyone who wears a badge seems eager now to earn his livelihood
by bullying people into patriotic attention. . . . All is over.
The jurors again sit down indolently in their seats, the witness
continues his narration.
Hopeless monotony again! The English anthem
is being played outside on the Square, but the Judge does not
command us to stand up. We are allowed to remain seated.
The hall is filled with men and women, well-dressed
and well-to-do people, as well as laborers and factory girls.
They were not admitted to the court-room and have waited patiently
for a chance to see the two people who were sacrificing their
liberty and their comfort to secure the joys of life for others.
Below in the Square a procession had formed
to take the Russian Commission with flying red banners of the
Russian Revolution through the streets of our city and to show
the people of New York that democracy is triumphant. . . in Russia.
Monday. Again I sit in my chair and listen
to Alexander Berkman, who tries in simple but eloquent words to
tell the jurymen what it means to be an anarchist. . . . He paints
with vivid colors the beauties of a free democracy without oppressors,
without poverty, with beauty and content for everybody. He shows
conclusively that the District Attorney had failed to prove him
"to be the head of a country-wide conspiracy to resist conscription."
He shows that speeches by Miss Goldman and by himself had been
delivered on several occasions and that the District Attorney
used in his evidence only the one speech where there had been
no stenographer present to take it down for Miss Goldman. He points
out that the stenographic report offered as evidence is the work
of a policeman who has never reported a speech before and who
has failed in a test in this very court.
He finished and the jurymen look with set
faces at the District Attorney, with the faces of men who care
only for the dogma.
Emma Goldman speaks in her defense.
Her speech goes to the heart of everyone
in the courtroom, even of those whose hearts are made sound-proof
and who would never permit other gods to take the place of their
She speaks of the twenty-seven years of her rebellion against existing conditions.
She states her unshakable principles of
independence and of liberty.
Her speech is one of the important documents
of our century. It will live as the great plea of our time for
liberation from ancient customs and institutions.
The jury goes out and the jury comes in.
The Judge gives the heaviest punishment
he can; these are the worst offenders possible.
The government takes possession of the prisoners
The Judge refuses to grant them time to
attend to their personal affairs, to take counsel with each other,
and a few hours after the sentence had been pronounced, they are
on their way to their prisons.
Emma Goldman to sew women's garments in
the prison of Jefferson City, Mo., and Alexander Berkman to do
some sort of menial work in the Federal prison at Atlanta, Ga.
Freedom is a great vision. It appears upon
the horizon of each of us. Some fear even to look in its direction.
It dazzles their eyes.
Some retain the shallow name and use it
as a bait to fill their coffers or satisfy political ambition;
others cherish it in their hearts.
They are hung or sent to prison.
GUIDO BRUNO in Pearson's Magazine
Go to Next Excerpt
Document maintained at: http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Goldman/Writings/Essays/TrialSpeeches/trialandconviction.html by the SunSITE Manager.