Lucy Parsons Center - Biography Of Lucy Parsons - by IWW Little is known about the early life of Lucy Parsons. She had an African American, Native American, and Mexican ancestry. She was born in Texas around 1853, during the Civil War Era, and it is likely that her parents were slaves. During her lifetime, in order to disguise her racial origins in a prejudiced society, Lucy went under many surnames. She often went by Lucy Gonzales, denying her African American roots, while claiming her Mexican heritage as the cause of her dark skin tone. Around 1870, while living with a former slave named Oliver Gathings, Lucy met Albert Parsons, who would soon become her husband. Their marriage, however, was probably not legal, since miscegenation laws (laws forbidding marriage or cohabitation between white people and members of other races) prevented interracial marriages at the time. In 1872, while the South was instituting repressive Jim Crow segregation laws, Lucy and Albert were forced to leave Texas due to their political involvement. Albert had worked diligently on registering Black voters and was shot in the leg and threatened with lynching. He and Lucy also felt threatened because of their interracial marriage. Lucy and Albert arrived in Chicago in 1873, where Albert quickly found a job as a printer for the Chicago Times. This was a difficult time for working people all over the nation, especially in industrial cities like Chicago, because the country had fallen into a depression, leaving millions of people unemployed. The passing of the Contract Labor Law of 1864 allowed American businesses to contract and bring in immigrant laborers. A large, unskilled pool of workers grew in Chicago, which drove wages down. The laboring population, however, was being radicalized by the introduction of socialist and anarchist ideology to the United States. In the summer of 1877, one of the greatest mass strikes in US history took place in response to the depression. Rail workers all over the country joined the picket line to protest wage cuts enacted by the Baltimore Ohio Railroad. In July, the strike moved to Chicago, where rail workers waged a militant battle. They derailed an engine and baggage cars and engaged in sporadic battles with police who attempted to disperse them and break the strike. Albert addressed crowds of up to twenty-five thousand people to promote peaceful ways of negotiating. This helped to bring him into the forefront of the anarchist movement in Chicago. Because of his involvement in organizing workers, Albert was fired from his job at the Times and blacklisted in the Chicago printing trade. Lucy opened a dress shop to support their family, and, with her friend Lizzie Swank, hosted meetings for the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Lucy found herself juggling her career, as well as her political work, which was becoming more and more involved. Lucy began to write for many radical publications, including The Socialist and The Alarm, an anarchist weekly published by the International Working People's Association (IWPA), which she and Albert had helped found in 1883. She had little sympathy for bosses who were paying their workers substandard wages. Her most famous article, "To Tramps," advocated "propaganda by the deed," a philosophy that held that only violent direct action or the threat of such action will ultimately win the demands of the workers. She was often considered more "dangerous" than her husband because she was so outspoken in her beliefs on the rights of the poor. Lucy was also threatening as a militant and radical woman who refused to assume the role of a homemaker. ------------------------------ Searching for Lucy Parsons: A Racial Riddle – AAIHS Parsons provides a perfect study in how an individual can shape their identity in response to their historical settings and how scholars must navigate between the individual’s claimed identity and the identities imposed upon them by their historical contemporaries. Many of Parsons’s contemporaries based their opinions of her race solely off her appearance, before either rumor was published to discredit her public standing. Many newspaper accounts labeled her a “negro” or “negress” in their headlines and described her appearance as sufficient reason to assume she had some African heritage. A Dublin paper wrote in 1888, “Her dark skin, black, frizzy hair, thick lips and flat nose, all betray her African descent.” The Kansas City Times described her as having a “swarthy, half mulatto-half Indian face.”Anarchist hunter police chief Michael Schaack wrote that Parsons “maintains that she is of Mexican extraction, with no negro blood in her veins, but her swarthy complexion and distinctively negro features do not bear out her assertions.”Despite Parsons’s claims to the contrary, the capitalist press stuck to their story that Parsons had African heritage, making her, and her principles by extension, utterly politically suspect. And yet, the white press may have uncovered a hidden truth about Parsons’ life when they labeled her “black,” or they may have simply been engaging in wishful thinking. During her life, two major rumors ascribing an African heritage to her surfaced in capitalist presses. One was little more than an empty rumor designed to discredit Parsons by linking her to a black slave heritage. The more credible rumor of Parsons’ slave origins came from a Texan freedman named Oliver Gathings who claimed she was his wife before she eloped with Albert Parsons without a proper divorce. This story broke toward the end of the first Haymarket trial when a reporter asked Parsons about Gathings. Parsons was indignant at this suggestion, stating, “I won’t rest under this false imputation any longer.” Albert himself did not deny the affair with Gathings’ wife or whisking her off, but he explicitly stated that that woman was not Parsons. He wanted to reassure “the world of the purity of the Indian and Spanish blood in her veins and of her good character.” Note how to Albert, Indian heritage was an advantage, while African heritage was so potentially immobilizing as to be slanderous. Gathings’ statements fueled the rumors that Parsons was born a slave—rumors which persist into the scholarly discussion today.