Lucy E. Parsons was a leading figure in American anarchism and the radical labor movement. Born a slave near Waco, Texas, she married Albert R. Parsons who had become a white radical Republican after serving first as a Confederate soldier. In 1873 Albert and Lucy to move to Chicago in 1873 where they became involved in radical labor organizing. Thirteen years later she rose to national fame when she embarked on a speaking tour to raise money for her husband who was one of nine men tried and sentenced to be executed for “speaking in such a way as to inspire the bomber to violence” following the Haymarket Square Bombing which killed a Chicago policeman.
Lucy Parsons remained an activist after the execution of Albert and in 1892 founded the newspaper Freedom which addressed such issues as labor organizing, lynching and black peonage in the South. In 1905 Parsons became the only woman to address the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). In the early 1930s Parsons joined in the defense of the Scottsboro Boys and Angelo Herndon. Parsons died accidentally in a house fire in 1942. The text of one of her speeches appeared in the Kansas City Journal, December 21, 1886. The speech is reprinted below.
I am an anarchist. I suppose you came here, the most of you, to see what Ia real, live anarchist looked like. I suppose some of you expected to see me with a bomb in one hand and a flaming torch in the other, but are disappointed in seeing neither. If such has been your ideas regarding an anarchist, you deserved to be disappointed. Anarchists are peaceable, law abiding people. What do anarchists mean when they speak of anarchy? Webster gives the term two definitions chaos and the state of being without political rule. We cling to the latter definition. Our enemies hold that we believe only in the former.
Do you wonder why there are anarchists in this country, in this great land of liberty, as you love to call it? Go to New York. Go through the byways and alleys of that great city. Count the myriads