Lucy Parsons

Lucy Parsons (c. 1853–1942) was an American anarchist of mixed-race background. She was born in Texas, married a white man (Albert Parsons) which was illegal under anti-miscegenation laws in Texas, and moved with him to Chicago where they both became deeply entrenched in the labour movement.

Albert was executed in the aftermath of the Haymarket affair, having been convicted on spurious circumstantial evidence of “conspiracy”. When Lucy tried to take their children to visit him one last time before he was killed, they were arrested (and Lucy was apparently stripped naked) and only released after the execution had happened.

Lucy Parsons was an opponent of the labour movement being coopted by the Democratic Party, adhering to a strictly syndicalist position. She was regularly barred by police from speaking at town halls, was arrested repeatedly for exercising her right to free speech, and so forth. (This was during the time of the first great wave of US repression of leftists.)

In the 1890s a rift opened up between Lucy Parsons and a different branch of the anarchist movement, mainly over the issue of free love. Other anarchists felt free love was an important part of the anarchist cause, while Lucy felt marriage and monogamy were natural parts of the human condition and that the issue paled in importance compared to capitalist exploitation and repression of the working class. She was nonetheless an advocate for women’s rights, particularly the rights to birth control, divorce and remarriage.

In the 1900s and 1910s, she was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). In 1925, she began working with the Communist Party, although she didn’t join until 1939. Apparently she made the transition because she’d come to feel the anarchist movement was moribund and no longer working towards revolution, while the Communist Party had vitality. During this period she worked particularly on cases where the judicial system was prosecuting Black workers and activists on trumped-up charges.

She died in an accidental fire in 1942, and her entire library (of 1,500 books) was confiscated by the FBI.

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