Saturday, February 17, 2024

Lucy Ella Gonzales Parsons: A Force in the Fight for a Better World.

On March 7, 1942, fire engulfed the simple home of 91-year-old Lucy Gonzales Parsons at 3130 North Troy Street. It ended a life dedicated to liberating working women and men of the world from capitalism and racial oppression. 
Lucy Parsons, 1886.
George Markstall, second husband of Lucy Parsons, blind anarchist whose first husband was hanged for his part in the Haymarket riot of 1886, died last night in Belmont Hospital of burns suffered in the same that took Mrs. Parsons' life Saturday. She was burned to death in the flat they occupied at 3130 North Troy Street. Markstall, 72 years old, tried unsuccessfully to save Mrs. Parsons from the burning building. Firemen Found him overcome in a bedroom. Mrs. Parsons, 91 years old, was found dead in the kitchen.
                                                            Source:  Chicago Tribune, Monday, March 09, 1942, pg 16.

A dynamic, militant, self-educated public speaker and writer, she became the first American negro woman to carry her crusade for socialism across the country and overseas. Lucy Ella Gonzales was born in Texas in 1851 (the year is questionable) of African-American, Mexican and Native-American ancestry and was born into slavery. The path she chose after emancipation led to conflict with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), hard work, painful personal losses, and many nights in jail. 
Albert Parsons
In Albert Parsons, a white man whose Waco Spectator fought the KKK and demanded social and political equality for Negroes, she found a handsome, committed soul mate. The white supremacy forces in Texas considered the couple dangerous and their marriage illegal, and soon drove them from the state.

Arriving In Chicago
Lucy and Albert reached Chicago, where they began a family and threw themselves into two new militant movements, one to build strong industrial unions and the other to agitate for socialism. Lucy concentrated on organizing working women, and Albert became a famous radical organizer and speaker, one of the few important union leaders in Chicago who was not an immigrant.

The late labor history scholar Bill Adelman wrote what is the definitive story of Haymarket. A paragraph from his description indicates the significance of the event and the horrors that all involved endured:

"The next day, martial law was declared in Chicago and throughout the nation. Anti-labor governments around the world used the Chicago incident to crush local union movements. In Chicago, labor leaders were rounded up, houses were entered without search warrants, and union newspapers were closed down. Eventually, eight men, representing a cross-section of the labor movement, were selected to be tried. Among them were (Albert) Parsons and a young carpenter named Louis Lingg, who was accused of throwing the bomb. Lingg had witnesses to prove he was over a mile away at the time. The two-month-long trial ranks as one of the most notorious in American history. The Chicago Tribune even offered to pay money to the jury if it found the eight men guilty."

In 1886, the couple and their two children stepped onto Michigan Avenue to lead 80,000 working people in the world's first May Day parade and a demand for the eight-hour workday. A new international holiday was born as more than 100,000 marched in other U.S. cities. By then, Chicago's wealthy industrial and banking elite had targeted Albert and other radical figures for elimination — to decapitate the growing union movement. A protest rally called by Albert a few days after May Day became known as the Haymarket Riot when seven Chicago policemen died in a bomb blast. No evidence has ever been found pointing to those who made or detonated the bomb, but Parsons and seven immigrant union leaders were arrested. As the corporate media whipped up patriotic and law-and-order fervor, a rigged legal system rushed the eight to convictions and death sentences.

When Lucy led the campaign to win a new trial, one Chicago official called her "more dangerous than a thousand rioters." 

Albert Parsons was framed and tried for the Haymarket bombing, which is generally attributed to a police provocateur. Parsons wasn't even present at Haymarket but cared for the couple's two children while Lucy Parsons was organizing a meeting of garment workers. After the Haymarket legal conspiracy, Lucy led the campaign to free her husband. Parson was one of eight who were convicted and one of four hanged on November 11, 1887. 

When Albert and three other comrades were executed, and four others were sentenced to prison, the movement for industrial unions and the eight-hour day was beheaded. Lucy, far from discouraged, accelerated her actions. Though she had lost Albert — and two years later lost her young daughter to illness — Lucy continued her crusade against capitalism and war and exonerated "the Haymarket Martyrs." She led poor women into affluent neighborhoods "to confront the rich on their doorsteps," challenged politicians at public meetings, marched on picket lines, and continued to address and write political tracts for workers' groups far beyond Chicago.
Lucy Parsons
Though Lucy had justified direct action against those who used violence against workers, in 1905, she suggested a very different strategy. She was one of only two women delegates (the other was Mother Jones) among the 200 men at the founding convention of the militant Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the only woman to speak. First, she advocated a measure close to her heart when she called women "the slaves of slaves" and urged IWW delegates to fight for equality and assess underpaid women's lower union fees.

In a longer speech, she called for nonviolence that would have broad meaning for the world's protest movements. She told delegates workers shouldn't "strike and go out and starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production." A year later, Mahatma Gandhi, speaking to fellow Indians at the Johannesburg Empire Theater, advocated nonviolence to fight colonialism. However, he was still 25 years away from leading fellow Indians in nonviolent marches against India's British rulers. 

She led many demonstrations of the unemployed, homeless and hungry, including a memorable 1915 Poor People's March of the Unemployed of over 15,000 people in Chicago on January 17, 1915, where "Solidarity Forever" was sung for the first time. WWI songwriter Ralph Chaplin had finished writing "Solidarity Forever" two days prior. Marchers demanded relief from hunger and high levels of unemployment.

The demonstration also persuaded the American Federation of Labor, the Jane Addams' Hull House, and the Socialist Party to participate in a subsequent massive demonstration on February 12, 1915.

Eventually, Lucy Parsons' principle traveled to the U.S. sit-down strikers of the 1930s, Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the antiwar movements that followed, and finally to today's Arab Spring and the Occupy movements.

Lucy was an unrelenting agitator, leading picket lines and speaking to workers' audiences in the United States before trade union meetings in England. In February 1941, poor and living on a pension for the blind, the Farm Equipment Workers Union asked Lucy Parsons to give an inspirational speech to its workers, and a few months later, she rode as the guest of honor on its May Day parade float. 
Lucy Parsons
For years, Lucy Parsons was harassed by the Chicago Police Department, who often arrested her on phony charges to prevent her from speaking at mass meetings. Following her death in a suspicious fire at her home, the police and FBI confiscated all her personal papers and writings. Federal and local lawmen arrived at the gutted Parsons home to make sure her legacy died with her. They poked through the wreckage, confiscated her vast library and personal writings, and never returned them. 

Lucy Parsons' determined effort to elevate and inspire the oppressed to take command remained alive among those who knew, heard, and loved her. But few today are aware of her insights, courage, and tenacity. Despite her fertile mind, writing and oratorical skills, and striking beauty, Lucy Parsons has not found a place in school texts, social studies curricula, or Hollywood movies. Yet she has earned a prominent place in the long fight for a better life for working people, women, people of color, her country, and her world.

Her fighting spirit and contributions to improving this world will not be forgotten via the exposed history.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal™ is RATED PG-13. Please comment accordingly. Advertisements, spammers and scammers will be removed.