Who Was Lucy Parsons?
Who was Lucy Parsons? Bread and Roses, which celebrates the labor movement, posted her picture on Facebook. Taken sometime in the 1870s, the picture shows a sweet-faced woman wearing a wasp-waisted Victorian dress. Her dark hair is in ringlets, her Cupid’s bow mouth is set, and her bold eyes gaze straight ahead. She looks small, feminine, young, and very determined. She is person of mixed race, born near Waco, Texas in 1853, ten years before the Emancipation Proclamation, twelve years before the end of the Civil War. Biographers, with little to go on, say she was born a slave. She never said so. And if she doesn’t say so—she who wrote polished books and pamphlets and delivered hundreds of speeches in her long and productive life—who would dare to speak for her?
She was arrested regularly, and stood up to the notorious Chicago Police (and to the formidable Emma Goldman) and remained an outspoken, unwavering anarchist throughout her life. She has been dismissed as the bitter widow of Albert Parsons. The record shows she was active before he died and remained active until her own death in 1942. In a way, Lucy Parsons leaves the more lasting legacy. Albert Parsons was executed for taking part in the Haymarket Riots of 1886 and posthumously “exonerated” four years later, an anomaly in the murderous and hidden history of the role American Anarchy played in the nascent labor movement. Lucy Parsons, more than an aggrieved widow of a martyred radical, wrote and spoke and was arrested more times than can be counted, yet she never spoke of her life before she met and married Albert. She never said I know slavery because I was a slave, so why do historians repeat it as if it were a fact? Who was Lucy Eldine Gonzalez before she was Lucy Parsons and how did she sprout from the cotton blanched soil of Texas to become Chicago’s most dangerous woman? I suspect it will take a lot of digging to unravel the mystery, but that’s what I want to do. And like an anarchist might say, the rules will outsmart themselves and no longer apply.