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Joe Hill, an inspired poet and union organizer, was executed in 1915 on a murder charge. Union supporters have always considered his trial and sentence a frame-up. This song, written in Hill’s memory, with music once again by Earl Robinson, is one of the most moving and most often sung of all labor songs. It is one of only three that Robeson sang at all three of his appearances at NMU conventions.

Robeson addressing the 1943 NMU convention in New York City:

I am proud of the record you hold in America today… you stand as a bulwark showing how people can really work together, how thousands and thousands of men can stand side by side, whatever their color, believing deeply in the common rights of men…

African American delegate raising his hand to speak during the 1943 NMU Convention.

African American delegate raising his hand to speak during the 1943 NMU Convention. ~ NMU Convention Proceedings, 1943. Courtesy of Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives – Tamiment Library of New York University.

Joe Hill

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(Alfred Hayes and Earl Robinson)

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you and me
Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead,”
“I never died,” says he
“I never died,” says he

“In Salt Lake City, Joe,” says I,
Him standing by my bed,
“They framed you on a murder charge,”
Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead,”
Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead.”

“The copper bosses killed you, Joe,
They shot you, Joe,” says I.
“Takes more than guns to kill a man,”
Says Joe, “I didn’t die,”
Says Joe, “I didn’t die.”
And standing there as big as life
And smiling with his eyes
Joe says, “What they forgot to kill
Went on to organize,
Went on to organize.”

“From San Diego up to Maine,
In every mine and mill,
Where workers fight and organize,
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill,
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.”

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you and me
Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead,”
“I never died,” says he
“I never died,” says he
“I never died,” says he.


Recording from “The Odyssey of Paul Robeson,” with Lawrence Brown on piano.
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