Born in 1853, Lucy Parsons grew up in Civil War Era Texas at a time when racist, prohibitive laws prevented the Black community from experiencing true freedom or safety. The details of her early life are largely unknown.
As Lucy grew to become more politically active, she met Albert Parsons who would eventually become her husband. Albert was an active anarchist whose work focused on registering Black voters while Lucy focused on empowering labor workers.
At the time, the couple’s interracial marriage was illegal in Texas and ongoing threats of violence for both their marriage and their activism forced them to relocate to the north in Chicago in 1873.
Both were active organizers in the labor movement and also played an important role in helping found the International Working People’s Association, an international anarchist organization.
Over the next decade, Lucy and Albert found themselves struggling to make ends meet as the United States slid into a great economic depression. Known for her outspoken nature and steadfast ideological beliefs on workers rights and the class struggle, Lucy was labeled by law enforcement as ”more dangerous than a thousand rioters.”
While economic conditions spiraled, workers across the country began to rise up in resistance demanding an eight-hour work day. Nearly 350,000 workers throughout the United States participated in a massive general strike by walking off the job in May 1886.
With an onslaught of activity and increased presence in Chicago, striking workers from the McCormick Harvest Works plant faced deadly force from retaliating police officers who opened fire on the unarmed crowd and eventually attacked a nearby group of nonviolent protesters in Haymarket Square. Four striking workers were killed by police and many more injured. In response to the attacks, someone in the crowd threw a bomb, killing one officer.
Shortly after the attacks, the police swept every inch of the town rounding up anyone with anarchist ties. Albert Parsons was arrested, despite not having been present at the time of the bombing and later executed by police.
Following his death, Lucy dove into her writing. She was invited to write for Les Temps Nouveaux, a French anarchist journal. She also wrote Freedom: A Revolutionary Anarchist-Communist Monthly. It was not long after that Lucy helped found the Industrial Workers of the World, a union focused on uniting both general and industrial workers through class consciousness and the use of workplace democracy.
Despite ongoing targeting and harassment by law enforcement, Parsons grew to become a leading figure in the labor movement and helped advance progress toward worker empowerment.