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PARSONS, LUCY ELDINE

PARSONS, LUCY ELDINE (1853?–1942). Lucy E. Parsons, radical activist and prominent figure in the 1886 Chicago Haymarket riot, was born in Texas, probably in March 1853. Contemporary newspapers consistently identified her as a Negro; she claimed that her dark skin came from Mexican and Indian ancestors. She furnished a variety of Anglo and Spanish maiden names on different legal documents, but her true parentage is unknown, and she may have been born a slave. The circumstances of her early relationship with Albert R. Parsons are also speculative. Despite Albert's claim that he first encountered Lucy on her uncle's ranch in Johnson County, they probably met during Reconstruction in Waco, where Lucy was apparently well known and Albert worked for black suffrage and for a time edited a Radical Republican newspaper. Although no marriage record has ever been found, Albert and Lucy claimed to have been married in Austin in 1871, and they moved to Chicago together in 1873. After Albert was blacklisted as a printer for his role in the 1877 railroad strikes, the couple operated a dressmaking business at home. They had two children. Lucy and Albert Parsons became disillusioned with electoral politics and by 1883 began to call themselves anarchists. Both were outspoken atheists. They joined the International Working People's Association, which advocated the forcible overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a society based on the exchange of goods among autonomous communes and trade unions. The IWPA advocated racial and sexual equality and secular education for both sexes, positions Lucy Parsons supported all her life. In October 1884 the IWPA began to publish the Alarm, edited by Albert Parsons. To this newspaper his wife contributed articles on child labor and lynchings of blacks. Her article "To Tramps, the Unemployed, Disinherited, and Miserable," in which she advised the poor to learn how to use explosives as weapons against the rich, was widely distributed as a flyer. By 1885 Lucy was a well-known radical speaker, and on April 28, 1885, she led a protest march on the newly opened Chicago Board of Trade.

On May 1, 1886, both Parsonses led 80,000 people up Michigan Avenue in Chicago, inaugurating a general strike for the eight-hour day. Three days later seven policemen and several citizens were fatally wounded during a confrontation in Haymarket Square. Eight anarchists, among them Albert Parsons, were tried and convicted of conspiracy to murder, though the prosecution openly acknowledged that none of the defendants had thrown the bomb that had caused police to fire on the crowd. Lucy Parsons's "To Tramps" was submitted as evidence to demonstrate the alleged conspiracy. Seven of the eight were condemned to death. After the verdict, Lucy undertook an extensive speaking tour to arouse public opinion about the Chicago trial and to raise money for an appeal. She was closely watched by police and arrested and jailed in Columbus, Ohio. Despite her efforts and those of many well-known individuals, both in the United States and in Europe, Parsons and three of his companions were executed on November 11, 1887. Lucy Parsons believed that working class revolution would eliminate not only poverty but racial and sexual discrimination as well, and she devoted the remainder of her long life to the cause of revolutionary socialism. The Chicago police considered her "more dangerous than a thousand rioters" and broke up her meetings for thirty years after the Haymarket trial. She published books and pamphlets, traveled and lectured extensively, contributed to publications for social change, and published the newspapers Freedom (1892) and The Liberator (1905–06). She was a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World and later was associated with the Communist Party, U.S.A. Lucy Parsons died in a fire in her home in Chicago on March 7, 1942. She was buried next to the Haymarket monument in Waldheim Cemetery outside Chicago.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Carolyn Ashbaugh, Lucy Parsons, American Revolutionary (Chicago: Illinois Labor History Society, 1976). Paul Avrich, The Haymarket Tragedy (Princeton University Press, 1984). Henry David, The History of the Haymarket Affair (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1936; 3d ed., New York: Collier, 1963).

Carolyn Ashbaugh

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Carolyn Ashbaugh, "PARSONS, LUCY ELDINE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpa68), accessed September 14, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.