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*On this date, we recall the birth of Lucy Parsons in 1853. She was a Black socialist and anarchist whose work made her a prominent figure in American politics.
Accounts differ regarding Parson’s birthplace, but some historians have said she was born a slave in Texas. Her marriage to Albert Parsons, a former Confederate soldier turned Radical Republican, was viewed as controversial. Shortly after their 1871 marriage, they left Waco, Texas, for Chicago, then a center of labor unrest and radical political movements. After Albert was blacklisted from the printing trade, Lucy supported the family as a dressmaker.
Around 1879, Lucy Parsons began writing for journals such as the Socialist and Scribner’s Magazine. In 1884, Parsons published her famous article "To Tramps: The Unemployed, the Disinherited, and Miserable" in the socialist journal The Alarm. She led demonstrations of the unemployed, sometimes with her two children, Lulu and Alfred, in tow. Some critics have accused Parsons of subordinating issues of race to those of class, pointing to her article "The Negro: Let Him Leave Politics to the Politicians and Prayers to the Preacher," published in 1886, in response to the lynching of Blacks in Carrollton, Mississippi. Parson’s commitment to class struggle brought her to the frontlines of the 1886 movement for the eight-hour workday.
Shortly after a general strike began in Chicago, her husband Albert was arrested during a demonstration in Haymarket Square. After the execution of her husband, Parsons traveled widely, speaking on anarchism and the Haymarket incident. In 1914, she commanded headlines in the mainstream press by leading two mass hunger demonstrations of homeless and unemployed people in San Francisco and Chicago. Parsons, by then in her sixties, was arrested for her role. At the age of 86, she joined the Communist Party.
Following her death in a fire in Chicago, police seized Parson’s books and personal papers, leaving few permanent records of her life and writings.
The Face of Our Past
Images of Black Women from Colonial America to the Present
Edited by Kathleen Thompson and Hilary Mac Austin
Copyright1999, Indiana University Press