Labor organizer. Radical socialist activist. Anarchist Communist. These are some of the titles that Lucy Parsons held in her fascinating life. At one point, the Chicago police considered her so much of a threat that they said she was “more dangerous as a thousand rioters.”
Born Lucy, or Lucia, Eldine Gonzalez in 1853, much of Parsons’ early life is unknown. Despite her claims of Native American and Mexican heritage, a comprehensive biography of her life indicates that she was in fact, African-American, and born a slave in Virginia.
While in Texas, she met and married white newspaper editor Albert Parsons, but the interracial marriage faced racial intolerance. The couple moved north to Chicago where Parsons began his work editing the anarchist paper, “The Alarm,” and drumming up his anarchist activism. He would eventually be executed as one of the alleged conspirators in the Haymarket bombing of 1887.
Parsons continued her husband’s legacy and her own work as an activist, starting an anarchist paper and becoming a well-known figure in the movement. After the turn of the century, Parsons got involved in civil rights matters like the anti-lynching movement, labor organizing, and the cases of the Scottsboro Boys and Angelo Herndon. A staunch anti-capitalist, Parsons was a fiery orator with a dramatic flair.
Her political stances made her many enemies, including the Chicago police, due to her effectiveness as an organizer and the growth of organized labor, which at the time was a hallmark of Communist activity and theory. Parsons, who spoke and organized well into her 80’s, didn’t live during the McCarthy era, but anti-Communist sentiment was high during her time as well.
Parsons died after an accidental fire took place at her Chicago home in 1942. Many of her writings and works were seized by the FBI given their incendiary nature. Renewed interest in Parsons is due to work of writer Jacqueline Jones, who penned Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical.
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