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“We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied
into a single garment of destiny.”
— Martin Luther King Jr.
“The world is my country.”
— Thomas Paine.
Why was Lucy Eldina Gonzales Parsons whitewashed, and that’s the right word for it, for so long out of US history and black history as well with all her high profile activism across a whole range of issues over a rather long time and thus denied her due in recognition of the tremendous number of actions she took on behalf of those without a voice and honoring her for same? Was any truth in the notion that it had to do with the reference to her by the Chicago Police referring to her as “more dangerous than a thousand rioters”? The FBI? Maybe some of of all this?
That’s the question all here in in the USA need to look at. Without the least bit of doubt the US media and “educational system” played a major role. Then the FBI had its role as well. Even some progressives or “pwogs” as Alexander Cockburn aptly referred to them played a big part as well. Too much left right agreement often says something isn’t quite as wonderful as it might seem. So it is here. Also only once people can come to terms with what this whitewashing will proper recognition and honor of Parsons take place.
Fact— following the death of Parsons in a Chicago house fire in 1942 with the ashes barely cooled the Chicago Police force seized her entire personal library in all its 3000 volumes and turned it over to the FBI. None of it would ever again see “the light of day” as Keith Rosenthal put it aptly. in his blog. Rosenthal’s account is the one so much of all this article’s information come from. He puts it all rather well.
J Edgar “Goering” as Eleanor Roosevelt referred to the FBI director of the time was surely insanely obsessed with Lucy Parsons’s thoughts and writing not seeing daylight if he had anything to do with it. His hatred of almost all even reform was notorious was his complete contempt for any due process and the US Bill of Rights.
Now what must be understood is that the media and “educational system” take their cue from an apparent consensus of power elites no matter how unjustified, and it wasn’t.
Given the fact at least by many writing about her as being black even if not self identified as such as she was living with a slave just before she married her white husband who was also a white Confederate veteran, Albert Parsons didn’t fit neatly into an easy narrative for many who call themselves progressives. Given the ban on black white marriage though it may explain why Lucy would self identify as Hispanic or indigenous rather than black as such marriages weren’t allowed in Texas where she got married at that time.
To make things even tougher for Parsons, she became a member in 1939 of the Communist Party at then time of the Nazi Soviet Non Aggression Pact. Just the thing to get on the worst of terms with the FBI as well as with the timing to not be even as well received by progressives.
As Rosenthal put it so well Lucy Parsons didn’t fit neatly into categories which some might well prefer. Such would make writing the narrative much simpler. But such was not the case and the “hardening of the categories’ as Marshall McLuhan once referred to also afflicts progressives or at least “pwogs” in this case.
Eloquent, passionate self educated, Parsons’ words of steel cut through ruling class capitalist BS rhetoric like a sharp knife cuts through fresh butter.
Parsons criteria for supporting and being active in any organization or movement was what it would do for the oppressed.
Her long running quarrel with Emma Goldman also bode poorly for Parsons. Condemning Parsons as “dragging a man she had been living with into court over a couple of pieces of furniture” in a case of domestic abuse of Parsons by her live in partner was surely sexist as Hell and some would say even racist of Goldman as she had to know Parsons was a woman of color. Her anarchic purism over time led Parsons and Goldman to a permanent break.
But Parsons’ eclectic and practical activism speaks volumes about her as does the fact that she and Eugene Debs, William “Big Bill” Haywood, and Mary Harris “Mother” Jones would organize the IWW (International Workers of the World) or Wobblies in 1905 and would sit at a national convention around that same time on one side of Debs while Mother Jones sat on the other at this convention in that year that Haywood, Jones, Parsons, and Debs founded the IWW with Haywood chairing the convention. Add to this Parsons’ part in founding the US Socialist Party in the 1890s and being active with and supportive of efforts of US Communists as a party to combat racism and other injustices in the last two decades of her life as Rosenthal reveals in his blog.
Lucy Parsons was active in a major way on issues directly affecting blacks which she should be honored for this month with the fitting recognition of her contributions. When a white mob in 1886 in Mississippi lynched 13 blacks for a single black man filing a charge of assault against a local police ‘officer. Parsons put it well with this “Who. . .could help but stand aghast and heave a sigh and perchance drop a tear as they read this graphic account flashed to us of the awful massacre of this poor and defenseless wage-slaves. . . in the state of Mississippi? Defenseless, poverty-stricken, hemmed about by their deadly enemies, victims not only of their misfortunes, but . . deep seated, blind, merciless prejudice. . . murdered without quarter.”
Blacks had recourse to self defense Lucy Parson contended at the time and the right to take up their own defense against such blatant tyranny.
Add to that what she said in 1892 about racism in the USA and especially the US South.
“Never since the days of the Spartan Helots has history recorded such brutality as has been ever since the war (US Civil War) and is now being perpetrated upon the Negro in the South.
Women are stripped to the skin in the presence of leering, white-skinned, black hearted brutes and lashed into insensibility and strangled to death from the limbs of trees. A girl child of fifteen years was lynched recently by these brutal bullies. Where has justice fled?
The whites of the South are not only sowing the wind which they will reap in the whirlwind, but the flame which they will reap in the conflagration.”
Parsons would warn blacks as she warned others about letting the Democrats as they try to do today, take them in with their pittance and minimalist top down reform even when that was the offer, and it wasn’t with Grover Cleveland who showed how soft on the KKK he could be as Parsons put it so bluntly for those who wanted to see the Democrats as they do even today as such “saints.”
Parsons had little use for top down reform from Democrats and or anyone else but was in favor of it when done on a bottom up basis even though her own inclination often seemed more revolutionary.
Having said this Parsons became practically the only revolutionary in the more militant faction of the Socialist Labor Party (SLP) to seriously take on this race question head on and with relish.
Like her husband, she was very good at connecting the dots between class and all oppression using Marxist analysis. Everything comes from that she concluded much the way the just departed Chris Harmon in his book :”The People’s History of the World” does here.
Eventually Parsons would become a syndicalist. Sacco and Vanzetti didn’t die in vain for damn sure. Trading in anarchism for syndicalism was rather easy once the “purists” went crazy with their bourgiousie and often dilettante dogma.
What do all miss today by this whitewashing of Lucy Parsons out of US history? Is it too much to ask this question and pose to our media and “educational system” of how they together do their bit for “manufacturing consent” as Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky would aptly put it though the “propaganda model”?
This woman who would sit on one side of Eugene Debs while Mary Harris “Mother” Jones sat on the other was as the worst of her detractors put it “more dangerous than a thousand rioters.” As were such folks as Crispus Attucks, Thomas Paine, the more militant of the anti slavery movement, those around Debs as well as he himself, and so many others. Thus for her to be whitewashed from US history in textbooks in not only secondary schools and universities has omitted a huge part of US history whitewashing it away as too inconvenient for US power elites whether acknowledged or not. It’s hard to disagree with Keith Rosenthal that it was largely due to Parsons being a woman of color challenging the capitalist system run by white men.
From the time of the May 1886 Haymarket police riot in Chicago which led to Albert Parsons becoming a target for the “economic royalist” ruling classes seeking to make an example of him by making the trial as the prosecution actually put it one of “anarchy” being “on trial” with the conviction to the scheduled execution of November 1887 Lucy raised holy Hell to get justice for her husband and at minimum to show what a complete farse and show trial for the US “economic” royal asses this kangaroo court case was.
On unions and union organizing Lucy and Albert Parsons were active from roughly the time of their arrival in Chicago in 1873 from Texas where they married and had left in 1873 with a threat of Albert being lynched at the time and the shot in the leg he got for registering blacks to vote.
The Haymarket riot which was largely a police riot would further radicalize her as it even did with her husband falsely accused on trumped up charges and for his politics of being as he put it so well “a Communist, a Socialist, or Anarchist” as was his wife. Lucy would be an advocate on this and other issues passionately, eloquently and with her melodious voice.
Albert Parsons would go to his death at the hands of what his wife would call the “labor robbers” on trumped up charges which would make the Virginia judge named Lynch purple with envy without a doubt with no real evidence ever really showing either Albert or others accused of throwing a bomb at the Haymarket protest which turned into a police riot as they and their overly rich white pimp owners surely wanted it to. The prosecution would turn the case into a crusade against the politics of those on trial referring the case as one of with “anarchy on trial.” The kangaroo court proceeding would get its desired and disgraceful result and the execution of Albert.
From this point and that of Lucy and her two children not even being allowed time with their father and her husband just before his death, Lucy was ready to be a “Joan of Arc” for the struggle with no reservations whatsoever. She was “mad as Hell” and wasn’t “going to take it anymore.”
Nor did she.
Parsons would later identify more as a syndicalist than an anarchist with the anarchist purism perhaps being a factor in that likely due to the purist and actually too often dogmatic position taken by anarchist purists on a range of issues. Not least among these was that of “free love.” Parsons simply didn’t see making that the basis for the whole struggle though she backed making divorce easier for women, providing sexual education for kids, and reproductive freedom for women. She saw something way beyond sexual freedom as the root of the whole oppression of all and wasn’t shy about saying so. Add to that Parsons advocacy of organization of sex workers (prostitutes) who often were some of the most vulnerable women in that time as is likely today. Thus did Parsons do battle with the oppression of women thoroughly, persistently, and systematically.
Likewise on imperialism and militarism Parsons would speak forcefully and connect the dots to classism which produces poverty for so many and their abject condition. Starting no later than the military misadventure in the Philippines of the 1890s Parsons would advocate the youth not allow themselves to be used as cannon fodder for the US “economic royalists” in that imperialist misadventure.
Nor would she be silent in the First World War either when Debs was speaking out. In 1915 appalled by the failure to oppose the war by socialist parties except in the USA she would write the following concerning the long established socialist party of Germany thusly “Scientific socialism (so called) has been taught for more than fifty. (Yet) the political representatives of “science” (backed by more than four million voters) helped their imperial master lay a war levy of a billion marks or more for the prosecution of a war on workers of other countries.And each of the scientists was honored by the clasp of the imperial hand to the tune of “Deutchland Uber Alles.” German scientific Socialism has stifled the revolutionary tendency, once so promising.”
Meanwhile and in 1917 Russia with its revolution would become a country breaking with imperialism and militarism and creating the first workers’ state taking a strong stand against racism and sexism with Parsons backing it.
But this wasn’t to be when Lucy Parsons died in a Chicago house fire in 1942 after having lived a full and active life in service of others and in seeking a better life for all.
AD Hemming has been an activist for progressive causes since the early 1960s, has been a researcher, poet, journalist, historian and got his feet wet as a progressive in the civil rights movement in US South as a teenager and who identifies as black and provides a perspective of a person of color from the US South.