Joe Hill, (born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund) also known as Joseph Hillström, was a Swedish-American trade union activist. He was an avid supporter of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or "Wobblies"), a group which promoted "One Big Union" for workers and democracy in the workplace.
He emigrated to the United States in 1902, and was a member of the IWW by 1910. Hill mostly drifted from place to place, often trying to support unions. He also wrote numerous poems and songs, such as "The Preacher and The Slave" (which also coined the term "Pie in the Sky"), "The Girl Question", and "The Tramp". They are collected in the Little Red Songbook.
In 1914, he was accused of the murders of John G. Morrison and his son Arling. The trial was quite controversial. Hill visited a doctor on the night of the murder with a gunshot wound. Hill also owned a red bandanna, which is something the killers used as a disguise. Hill denied these claims, saying he was shot by the husband of a woman he was with. He could not use this as a defense, however, as it would ruin the woman's reputation. Even the star witness shouted out that Hill was not the murderer in open court. Hill was convicted and sentenced to death. It only took the jury a few hours to convict him.
Hill met his fate with a firing squad on November 19, 1915. His last word was "Fire." President Wilson, Helen Keller, and people in Sweden were all appalled by this and demanded the decision be overturned.
Hill's body was cremated and his ashes sent in hundreds of envelopes to various supporters. (The U.S. Postal Service confiscated one of these letters, declaring it to have "subversive potential." When the envelope was finally recovered in 1988, it was found to contain a photo, captioned "Joe Hill murdered by the capitalist class, Nov. 19, 1915.") The majority of the ashes were cast to the wind in the US, Canada, Sweden, Australia, and Nicaragua. The ashes sent to Sweden were only partly cast to the wind. Some remains were scattered at the unveiling of a monument to IWW coal miners buried in Lafayette, Colorado in 1989. He has been immortalized in various poems and songs, most notably "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night", a poem by Alfred Hayes set to music by Earl Robinson. A film by the same name from 1971 chronicled his life and death. It can be watched for free on Youtube.