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Lucy Eldine González Parsons

Lucy Parsons, 1886
Born 1853
Texas
Died March 7, 1942
Occupation Labor organizer
Spouse(s) Albert Parsons

Lucy Eldine González Parsons (1853-March 7, 1942) was a radical American labor organizer, anarchist communist, and is remembered as a powerful orator.

Contents

Life

Parsons was born in 1853 in Texas, likely as a slave, to parents of Native American, Black American and Mexican ancestry. She often went by the name of Lucy Gonzales.

In 1871 she married Albert Parsons, a former Confederate soldier, and both were forced to flee from Texas north to Chicago by intolerant reactions to their interracial marriage.

Described by the Chicago Police Department as "more dangerous than a thousand rioters" in the 1920s, Lucy Parsons and her husband had become highly effective anarchist organizers primarily involved in the labor movement in the late 19th century, but also participating in revolutionary activism on behalf of political prisoners, people of color, the homeless and women. She began writing for The Socialist and The Alarm, the journal of the International Working People's Association (IWPA) which she and Parsons, among others, founded in 1883.

In 1886 her husband, who had been heavily involved in the labor movement for the eight hour day, was arrested, tried and executed on November 11, 1887, by the state of Illinois on charges that he had conspired in the Haymarket Riot – an event which was widely regarded as a political frame-up, and which marked the beginning of May Day labor rallies in protest.

In 1892 she briefly published Freedom: A Revolutionary Anarchist-Communist Monthly, and was often arrested for giving public speeches or distributing anarchist literature. While she continued championing the anarchist cause, she came into ideological conflict with some of her contemporaries, including Emma Goldman, over her focus on class politics over gender and sexual struggles.

Portrait of Parsons

In 1905 she participated in the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World, and began editing the Liberator, an anarchist newspaper that supported the IWW in Chicago. Lucy's focus shifted somewhat to class struggles around poverty and unemployment, and she organized the Chicago Hunger Demonstrations in January 1915, which pushed the American Federation of Labor, the Socialist Party, and Jane Addam's Hull House to participate in a huge demonstration on February 12. Parsons was also quoted as saying, "My conception of the strike of the future is not to strike and go out and starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production." (Wobblies! 14) Parsons anticipated the sit-down strikes in the US and, later, workers' factory takeovers in Argentina.

In 1925 she began working with the National Committee of the International Labor Defense in 1927, a communist-led organization that defended labor activists and unjustly-accused African Americans such as the Scottsboro Nine and Angelo Herndon. While it is commonly accepted by nearly all biographical accounts (including those of the Lucy Parsons Center, the IWW, and Joe Knowles) that Parsons joined the Communist Party in 1939, there is some dispute, notably in Gale Ahrens' essay "Lucy Parsons: Mystery Revolutionist, More Dangerous Than A Thousand Rioters," which can be found in the anthology Lucy Parsons: Freedom, Equality, Solidarity. Ahrens also points out, in "Lucy Parsons: Freedom, Equality and Solidarity: Writings and Speeches, 1878 - 1937", that the obituary which the Communist Party had published on her death made no claim that she had been a member.

Parsons continued to give fiery speeches in Chicago's Bughouse Square into her 80s, where she inspired Studs Terkel.[1]

One of her last major appearances was at the International Harvester in February 1941. She died on March 7, 1942, in a house fire; her lover, George Markstall, died the next day from wounds he received while trying to save her. She was 89 years old.[2] The state still viewed Lucy Parsons as such a threat to the status quo that, after her death, police seized her library of over 1500 books and all of her personal papers.

She is buried near her husband, near the Haymarket Monument, at the Waldheim Cemetery[3] (now Forest Home Cemetery), in Forest Park, Chicago.

In 2004, the City of Chicago named a park for her.[1] On July 16, 2007, a book that purportedly belonged to Lucy Parsons was featured on a segment of the American Public Broadcasting Service television show, History Detectives. During the segment it was determined that the book, which was a biography of co-defendant August Spies' life and trial, was most likely a copy published and sold by Parsons as a way to raise money to prevent her husband's execution. The segment also provided background on Parsons' life and the Haymarket affair.

Conflict with Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman and Lucy Parsons represented different generations of anarchism. This resulted in ideological and personal conflict. Carolyn Ashbaugh has explained their disagreements in depth:

Lucy Parsons’ feminism, which analyzed women’s oppression as a function of capitalism, was founded on working class values. Emma Goldman’s feminism took on an abstract character of freedom for women in all things, in all times, and in all places; her feminism became separate from its working class origins. Goldman represented the feminism being advocated in the anarchist movement of the 1890s [and after]. The intellectual anarchists questioned Lucy Parsons about her attitudes on the women’s question.[4]

In 1908, after Captain Mahoney (of the New York Police Department) crashed one of Goldman’s lectures in Chicago, newspaper headlines read that every popular anarchist had been present for the spectacle, “with the single exception of Lucy Parsons, with whom Emma Goldman is not on the best of terms.”[5] Goldman reciprocated Parsons’s absence by endorsing Frank Harris’s book The Bomb, which was a largely fictional account of the Haymarket Affair and its martyrs road to death.[6] (Parsons had published The Famous Speeches of the Haymarket Martyrs, a non-fictional, first-hand recounting of the Haymarket martyrs’ final speeches in court.)

Parsons was solely dedicated to working class liberation, condemning Goldman for “addressing large middle-class audiences”; Goldman accused Parsons of riding upon the cape of her husband’s martyrdom. [6] “[N]o doubt,” Candace Falk wrote (Love, Anarchy, and Emma Goldman), “there was an undercurrent of competitiveness between the two women. Emma generally preferred center stage.” Goldman planned on preserving her place in the spotlight as an American anarchist laureate by shoving risqué sexual and kinship discourse into “the center of a perennial debate among anarchists about the relative importance of such personal issues.”

In The Firebrand, she wrote, “Mr. [Oscar] Rotter [a free love advocate] attempts to dig up the hideous ‘Variety’ grub and bind it to the beautiful unfolding blossom of labor’s emancipation from wage-slavery and call them one and the same. Variety in sex relations and economic freedom have nothing in common.”[7] Goldman responded her thoughts:

The success of the meeting was unfortunately weakened by Lucy Parsons who, instead of condemning the unjustified [Comstock attacks and arrest of anarchists]…took a stand against the editor of the Firebrand, [Henry] Addis, because he tolerated articles about free love… Apart from the fact that anarchism not only teaches freedom from the economic and political areas, but also in social and sexual life, L. Parsons has the least cause to object to treatises on free love… I spoke after Parsons and had a hard time changing the unpleasant mood that her remarks elicited, and I also succeeded in gaining the sympathy and the material support of the people present…[8]

Parsons responded with her economism: “The line will be drawn sharply at personalities as we know these enlighten no one and do infinitely more harm than good.”[9]

The ideological differences between Parsons and Goldman were often escalated through each other’s competition for popularity. Goldman, in her autobiography, Living My Life, briefly mentioned the presence of “Mrs. Lucy Parsons, widow of our martyred Albert Parsons,” at a Chicago labor convention, noting that she “took an active part in the proceedings.” Later, Goldman acknowledged Albert Parsons for becoming a socialist and anarchist after being raised by a Southern family of racist Confederates, proceeding to praise him because he “married a young mulatto.” There was no further mention of Lucy Parsons.

On a more personal level, though, Parsons thought it was very easy for Goldman to live and make sexually “free” and radical demands for women’s liberation and kinship restructuralization, because she did not have to worry about pregnancy; she had an inverted womb. Contraception was not readily accessible to the American working class, so to encourage sexual activity would increase pregnancy rates, driving families even further into poverty.

References

  1. ^ a b Watkins, Nancy (2008-11-09). "Who Loves Lucy?". Chicago Tribune Magazine (Tribune Co.): pp. 23.  
  2. ^ Lucy Parsons Center - Biography Of Lucy Parsons - by IWW
  3. ^ "Browse by City: Forest Park". Findagrave.com. http://www.findagrave.com/php/famous.php?page=city&FScityid=41672. Retrieved 2008-05-05.  
  4. ^ Carolyn, Ashbaugh, Lucy Parsons: American Revolutionary, Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing, 1976.
  5. ^ Daily Tribune (17 March 1908); quoted in Falk, Love…, 65.
  6. ^ a b Falk, Candace. Anarchy, Love, and Emma Goldman. p. 66.  
  7. ^ Lucy Parsons, “On Variety,” The Firebrand September 27, 1896, Free Society; also in Ashbaugh, 204.
  8. ^ Emma Goldman in Emma Goldman: A Documentary…, 312-313; originally featured in Part IV, “Letters from A Tour,” Sturmvogel, November 15, 1897.
  9. ^ Lucy Parsons, “Salutation to the Friends of Liberty,” The Liberator Chicago, September 3, 1905; Lucy Parsons, Ahrens, ed., 88.
  • Buhle, Paul; Nicole Schulman (2005). Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World. New York: Verso. ISBN 9781844675258. OCLC 57506712.  
  • "Lucy Parsons Is Burned to Death in Chicago; Husband Was Hanged After Haymarket Riot". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). March 8, 1942. "Chicago, March 7, 1942. Lucy Parsons, 83 years old, noted anarchist whose husband was hanged for his part in the Chicago Haymarket riot in 1886, was burned to death late today when a fire broke out in her frame residence…".  

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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Anarchists know that a long period of education must precede any great fundamental change in society, hence they do not believe in vote begging, nor political campaigns, but rather in the development of self-thinking individuals.

Lucy E. Parsons (1853 - 7 March 1942) was a radical American labor organizer, anarchist, and orator. She was born in Texas, likely as a slave, to parents of Native American, Black American and Mexican ancestry. She often went by the name of Lucy Gonzales.

Sourced

The Principles of Anarchism

Full text online
  • Governments never lead; they follow progress. When the prison, stake or scaffold can no longer silence the voice of the protesting minority, progress moves on a step, but not until then.
  • My mind is appalled at the thought of a political party having control of all the details that go to make up the sum total of our lives. Think of it for an instant, that the party in power shall have all authority to dictate the kind of books that shall be used in our schools and universities, government officials editing, printing, and circulating our literature, histories, magazines and press, to say nothing of the thousand and one activities of life that a people engage in, in a civilized society.
  • The philosophy of anarchism is included in the word "Liberty"; yet it is comprehensive enough to include all things else that are conducive to progress. No barriers whatever to human progression, to thought, or investigation are placed by anarchism; nothing is considered so true or so certain, that future discoveries may not prove it false; therefore, it has but one infallible, unchangeable motto, "Freedom." Freedom to discover any truth, freedom to develop, to live naturally and fully. Other schools of thought are composed of crystallized ideas — principles that are caught and impaled between the planks of long platforms, and considered too sacred to be disturbed by a close investigation. In all other "issues" there is always a limit; some imaginary boundary line beyond which the searching mind dare not penetrate, lest some pet idea melt into a myth. But anarchism is the usher of science — the master of ceremonies to all forms of truth. It would remove all barriers between the human being and natural development.
  • Anarchists know that a long period of education must precede any great fundamental change in society, hence they do not believe in vote begging, nor political campaigns, but rather in the development of self-thinking individuals.
    We look away from government for relief, because we know that force (legalized) invades the personal liberty of man, seizes upon the natural elements and intervenes between man and natural laws; from this exercise of force through governments flows nearly all the misery, poverty, crime and confusion existing in society.
  • Most anarchists believe the coming change can only come through a revolution, because the possessing class will not allow a peaceful change to take place; still we are willing to work for peace at any price, except at the price of liberty.
  • So many able writers have shown that the unjust institutions which work so much misery and suffering to the masses have their root in governments, and owe their whole existence to the power derived from government we cannot help but believe that were every law, every title deed, every court, and every police officer or soldier abolished tomorrow with one sweep, we would be better off than now.

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