They don’t get more Boss Bitch than Lucy Parsons, the radical anarcho-communist labor organizer who the Chicago PD said was “more dangerous than a thousand rioters.”
“We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live.”
Lucia Carter was born to an enslaved woman in Virginia in 1851. Her heritage has been said to be African-American, Native-American, and Mexican (including by the IWW), but the historian Jacqueline Jones claims to have found no indigenous or Mexican roots. But, in Lucy’s own words: “I am not a candidate for office, and the public have no right to my past. I amount to nothing to the world and people care nothing of me. I am battling for a principle.”
She was eventually moved to Waco TX, and by the age of 20 she married Albert Parsons, a former Confederate soldier who became an anarchist newspaper editor. Interracial marriage was not taken kindly to in Texas, and so the couple fled to Chicago. There she became a leader in the labor movement and an activist for the rights of people of color, women, the homeless, and political prisoners.
A statue in Chicago names her the “Chicana socialist labor organizer.” She has also been recognized as “the first Black woman to play a prominent role in the American Left.” Jacqueline Jones named Lucy’s biography The Goddess of Anarchy. There’s a reason someone I know named their gun after Lucy – because of her scathing criticism of American politics and the economic exploitation of working people and her being a masterful orator who commanded the attention of crowds of people as she spoke to the need for armed self defense and the need for a radical revolution.
She began writing for The Socialist and The Alarm, the journal of the International Working People’s Association (IWPA) that she and her husband, among others, founded in 1883. In 1886, Alan Parsons was fighting heavily for an 8-hour work day. He was arrested and tried and in 1887 he was executed by the State of Illinois for conspiring in advance of the Haymarket Riots. On May 4 there was a peaceful labor demonstration in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. Someone tossed a dynamite bomb at police, killing seven officers and at least four civilians and wounding dozens of others. It was much later determined that the bomb was actually tossed by police.
“Oh, Misery, I have drunk thy cup of sorrow to its dregs, but I am still a rebel.”
Parsons worked closely with her friend and collaborator Lizzie Holmes, leading marches of working seamstresses in Chicago. She sometimes clashed with Emma Goldman because Parsons focused on class over gender.
In 1892, she began publishing Freedom: A Revolutionary Anarchist-Communist Monthly, a collection of literature that explored issues from the defense of other anarchist (including the arrest, trial and execution of her husband), the struggles of African-Americans in the North and the continuing violence and racism in the South.
Big Bill Haywood called a convention drawing anarchists, syndicalists and trade unionists. This became known as the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World, an international union working towards the abolishment of the class and wage system. Lucy Parsons was the second woman to join this new organization. She believed that a revolution could only come through a well-organized working class movement that seized the methods of production, and that the IWW’s tactics of militant strikes and direct action would enable this movement. Lucy promoted the idea of a general strike and spoke strongly for this at the founding convention.
At the same time she began editing The Liberator, an anarchist-based newspaper that supported the Chicago branch of the Industrial Workers of the World.
From 1907-1908, a period encompassing huge economic crashes, Lucy organized against hunger and unemployment. In San Francisco Lucy and the IWW took over the Unemployment Committee, pressuring the state to begin a public works project. The San Francisco government’s refusal to acknowledge the committee gave rise to a march of ten thousand people. At the front were unemployed women. The success of Lucy’s Chicago Hunger Demonstrations in January 1915 pushed the American Federation of Labor, the Socialist Party, and Jane Addam’s Hull House to participate in a huge demonstration on February 12. Two weeks after this demonstration, the government began planning for a decentralization of hunger and unemployment policy.
In the Spring of 1931, eight young African American men and boys were hoboing a train to Memphis trying to find work in the Depression-torn South. On this ride, they were accused of raping two white women who were on the train. The young men – from age 13 on up – were put into jail in Scottsboro, Alabama to await trial. They were ultimately found guilty of rape and were sentenced to death. Lucy published an essay on the Scottsboro Eight in Alabama, speaking fervently against the lynchings. This article made her a target for the corrupt police department who perceived her as a threat to a certain way of life.
“Parsons was paradoxical: She spent her life fighting for the downtrodden but showed no interest in the plight of African Americans….She rarely addressed issues facing black people… And yet, the only black person who would have spoken to more white Americans across the nation than Parsons would have been Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist.” The fact isn’t, Lucy didn’t believe in racial politics. It’s why her own race was not something she cared speak about.
Lucy Parsons was relentless in speaking against corruption. She died in 1942 in a house fire, the cause of which was never confirmed. The Chicago police immediately confiscated her personal library and papers, the whereabouts are still unknown.