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Lucy González Parsons

#blackhistoryProfilesFebruary 13, 2022

Lucy Eldine González Parsons was a fiery speaker, writer, and labor organizer who led the first May Day parade in Chicago in 1886, and also unionized the city’s only female workers organization at the time, Working Women’s Union No. 1 (WWU).

Born into slavery as an Afro-Indigenous Latina, Lucy Eldine González Parsons worked as a seamstress and domestic servant in Waco, Texas, before establishing herself as a fiery speaker, writer, and labor organizer.

She attended a school for freed children before meeting her white husband, Albert Parsons, a former Confederate soldier. The couple moved to Chicago after Lucy was threatened for trying to register Black people to vote. In Chicago, Parsons made a name for herself as a self-educated public speaker and writer for radical publications, including The Socialist and The Alarm, an anarchist weekly published by the International Working People’s Association (IWPA), which she helped found in 1883. In her writings she advocated “propaganda by the deed,” noting that only violent direct action or the threat of such action will ultimately win workers’ demands. 

In 1886, Lucy and Albert led some 80,000 Chicago workers on the first May Day parade joining with workers across the country advocating for an eight-hour work day. The following year she organized the Working Women’s Union (WWU), Chicago’s only such organization for women, which advocated for equal pay and work for domestic servants, seamstresses, and homemakers.

Parsons was arrested numerous times for organizing, selling copies of anarchist pamphlets, and for her failed clemency campaign for her husband, who was convicted and hanged for his alleged involvement in the Haymarket Affair bombing during a protest rally days after the May Day march. In her attempts to save her husband and seven other convicted men, Parsons toured 17 states making speeches against the unjust trial and gathering funds, while police barred her from entering local meeting halls. 

She continued writing for periodicals such as Freedom: A Revolutionary Anarchist-Communist Monthly and The Liberator, a paper published by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). In 1905, Parsons was the only woman to speak at the IWW’s founding convention, advocating workers “shouldn’t strike and go out and starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production.” 

Later she worked with the International Labor Defense of the Communist Party, aiding with cases where Black organizers were charged with crimes they did not commit. Parsons remained active in the fight against racial oppression until her death in 1942. 

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