Monday, February 25, 2008

Ida B. Wells-Barnett - Crusader for Justice

Long before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, a young school teacher refused to move from the Ladies Car on the train on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. When she was removed from the train, she sued and won proving that a woman of color could make her voice heard. Although the decision was later over-turned, Ida B. Wells-Barnett kept raising her voice, educating Americans and Europeans about the horrors of lynching, and other social injustices that were being heaped on African-Americans in the 19th century.

Ida wasn't one to back down and compromise. She was tough, and argumentative, and she clashed with several prominent African-American leaders of the time compromising instead of standing firm. She also clashed with various whites including temperance advocate Frances Willard. She owned newspapers and wrote articles at a time when most women were relegated to writing what was known than as the 'women's page.' She hyphenated her name at a time when most women automatically took their husband's name. Living in Chicago, she started the first kindergarten for black children. Although she lost a race for the Illinois State Senate, just the fact that she ran, ten years after women won the vote, is a testament to her courage and ambition.

What shaped this remarkable woman? She was the eldest of 8 children, born on July 16 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi to James Wells, a carpenter and Elizabeth "Lizzie Bell" Warrenton Wells who had were slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, only freed slaves held in border states or in the Union. It wasn't until the South lost the Civil War that the entire Wells family was free. Education was very important in the Wells family. Ida's father was a heavily involved in local politics, and a proud member of the Republican party which seemed to promise so much to freed blacks after the war. He was a member of the Loyal League, a Mason, and he campaigned for local black candidates. His support for the Republican party led to a rupture with his former master, who had kept as a paid employee after emancipation. When James refused to vote for the Democratic party candidate his employer Mr. Bolling favored, the Wells family discovered they were no longer welcome on Bolling property.

A yellow fever struck Mississippi in 1878 and Ida’s parents and one of her siblings died. Ida rose to the challenge of taking care of her remaining siblings and keeping the family together. She decided, at 16, to take the teaching certification examination, passing with flying colors. Despite the difficulties of raising 6 younger brothers and sisters, while teaching, Ida still managed to keep up her education, working her way through Rust College.

In 1881, Ida decided to move to Memphis where she started teaching at a country school at a in northern Mississippi just across the state line from the city. Every day she rode the train to work. Until the day that she sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company for trying to force her to sit in the smoking car when she had paid for a first class pass. Ida later wrote in her autobiography,"I refused, saying that the forward car closest to the locomotive]was a smoker, and as I was in the ladies' car, I proposed to stay. . . The conductor] tried to drag me out of the seat, but the moment he caught hold of my arm I fastened my teeth in the back of his hand. I had braced my feet against the seat in front and was holding to the back, and as he had already been badly bitten he didn't try it again by himself. He went forward and got the baggageman and another man to help him and of course they succeeded in dragging me out."

White passengers cheered from the train. The Federal Civil Rights Act of 1875 had banned discrimination on the basis of race, creed or color in theaters, hotels, transport, and other public accomodations had just been declared unconstitutional which led to several railroad companies to start practicing segregation. Black newspapers throughout the country reprinted her first article about her railroad court case. With the help of a second lawyer (her first lawyer took money to throw the case), Ida actually won her lawsuit and was awarded $500 in damages. However, in 1887, the railroad company appealed the decision to the Tennessee Supreme Court and won, reversing the court’s decision. Ida was required to return the $500 and pay $200 in damages to the railroad.

While living in Memphis, Ida availed herself of the social life that was available. Whenever possible, she attended classes at Fisk University. Her teaching in Memphis schools led her to write articles for The Evening Star, a black-owned newspaper, about the inequalities among the separated black and white schools. She began writing for another local black newspaper The Free Speech and Headlight of which she became a eventual co-owner and editor. The owners had read Ida's articles written under the pseudonymn "Iola." In her editorials, Ida took on the violence against blacks, disfranchisement, the poor school system, and the failure of blacks to fight for their rights. She traveled the country getting subscribers and earning more and more money. After she became a co-owner, Ida started printing the paper on pink paper so it would stand out.

In 1889, she was elected Secretary of the Colored Press Association, where she received the nickname“The Princess of the Press.” Her writing style was simple and direct because, as she said in her autobiography, The Crusade for Justice, she “needed to help people with little or no schooling deal with problems in a simple, common-sense language.”

Fired from her teaching job for writing about the inequalities between black and white schools, Ida became a full-time journalist. In 1892, a long-time friend Tom Moss, a respected black store owner, was lynched along with two of his friends after he defended his store against an attack by whites. Wells was outraged, particularly since nothing was done to bring the culprits to justice. She wrote a scathing series of editorials, encouragiing black residents of Memphis to leave town, and attacking the practice of lynching. She also encouraged those blacks who remained to boycott white owned businesses.

"Lynch's Law" which became corrupted to 'lynch law' and then lynching originated during the American Revolution when Charles Lynch, a Virginia justice of the peace, ordered punishment against those individuals who supported the Tory cause. After the Civil War, lynching became a form of terrorism practiced by white mobs against mostly innocent blacks. Instead of waiting for due process of law, organized mobs would take the law into their own hands. Many of the victims while being hung, were set on fire, or shot.

During her investigations, Ida discovered that many of the accused, if they had been accused of raping a white woman, were really involved in relationships of mutual consent but because the woman was white, and it was assumed that no white woman would willingly be involved with a black man, he was accused of rape. Nine times out of ten, the accused were arrested with no evidence or what evidence there was turned out to be extremely circumstantial. Confessions were obtained under coercion. Many others were lynched for trivial offenses such as not paying a debt, disrespecting whites, or pubilc drunkeness.

There were whites who were victims of lynching, mainly white Republicans who had traveled down south to help register freed slaves to vote. Lynching was the preferred method to control the African-American male population, to keep him in his place, basically poor and illiterate. During the years 1880 and 1951, 3437 American Americans and 1,293 whites were lynched in the United States.

Ida B. Wells wrote many pamphlets exposing the horrors of lynching and defending the victims. While Ida was out of town, the newspaper was destroyed by a mob and she was warned to never return to Memphis for fear for her life. Ida moved to Chicago after a short sojurn in New York. While living in Chicago, she met Ferdinand Barnett, a prominent Chicago attorney and widower, who she eventually married at the relatively advanced age of 33. She also wrote for his newspaper, the Chicago Conservator, which she became owner and editor for after their marriage.

In 1893, living now in Chicago, as part of a boycott, she wrote a pamphlet called “The Reason Why the Colored American is not in the World’s Columbian Exposition” to protest the exclusion of African-Americans from the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. The pamphlet was printed in several languages and 2,000 copies were distributed at the fair. In 1895, she wrote “The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States: 1892, 1893, and 1894,” which included all her research of the past few years. She started traveling the country asking for support in putting a stop to lynching. People began to ask her to speak at organization meetings and functions. She would spend the rest of her life writing and giving speeches throughout the country and in Europe.

Despite her happiness with Ferdinand Barnett, Ida wasn't about to stop writing and lecturing. She undertook two lecture tours of England at the request of British Quaker, Catherine Impey. The goal was to convince the English of the horrors of lynching, since the United States and England had a special relationship (despite the Revolution and the war of 1812 and English support for the South during the Civil War), if England spoke out against lynching, perhaps politicians in American would take notice. While in England, Ida launched the London Anti-Lynching Committe. Ida's tours were a great success, although it led to an a rupture between her and one of the sponsors of her English tour, when she refused to condemn the decision of one of the women who fell in love with a man outside her race. She even wrote about her tour for the Daily Inter-Ocean in Chicago becoming the first black woman to paid as a correspondant for a major white newspaper.

After the birth of her four children, Ida continued to lecture, but like most working mothers, she took her children with her, asking for baby-sitters at every stop on her lecture tour. Eventually the demands of motherhood kept Ida in Chicago but she continued to write and speak out about injustice. She refused to walk in the back in women's suffrage parades because she was black and she fell out with Susan B. Anthony for getting married and starting a family instead of devoting herself solely to the cause of suffrage and the establishment of anti-lynching law (which didn't come about until 1918).

Ida kept busy over the years while raising her four children, and her two step-children. She served as secretary of the National Afro-American Council and she was part of a delegation to President William McKinley to seek justice after the lynching in South Carolina of a black postman. Unfortunately McKinley was too preocuppied by the Spanish-American war and the aftermath to give the matter much attention. She also worked with Jane Addams to defeat an attempt to segregate Chicago's public school system.

In 1901, the Barnetts bought the first house east of State Street to be owned by a black family. Despite harassment and threats, they continued to live in the neighborhood. Wells-Barnett was also a founding member of the NAACP, but she later withdrew her membership because she considered the organization not militant enough. In her writing and lectures, she often criticized middle-class blacks for not being active enough in helping the poor in the black community.

Ida became interested in the settlement movement, and in particular the work that Jane Addams had done with Hull House. In 1910 she helped found and became president of the Negro Fellowship League, which established a settlement house in Chicago to serve the many African Americans newly arrived from the South. To help support the settlement house, she worked for the city as a probation officer, donating most of her salary to the organization. Unfortunately due to competition from other groups, and her own poor health, the League closed its doors in 1920.

In 1928, shewrote her autobiography which she called Crusade for Justice . It was finally published in 1970, edited by her daughter Ada. In 1931, she died of uremia poisoning at the age of 69, largely forgotten. In 1990, she was honored by having a postage stamp issued with her likeness.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, although she was born a slave, grew up to be one of the greatest pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement. In a time when most women, white and black were restricted to either the roles of wife and mother or low paying factory jobs, Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a teacher, journalist, suffragette, civil rights activist, political candidate, wife, mother, grandmother, and the leader of the anti-lynching movement in the United States. She knew and was friends with some of the era's political leaders including Frederick Douglass, President Mckinley, Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Walter White, and Susan B. Anthony.

Without Ida B. Wells-Barnett, there would be no Rosa Parks, no Shirley Chisholm. She stands large as a seminal figure in the history of Post Civil War America.

Sources: Wikipedia

Ida B. Wells - Mother of the Civil Rights Movement - Dennis Brindell Fradin & Judith Bloom Fradin
The Red Record by Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Ida B. Wells-Barnett House in Chicago

Lynch Law by Ida B. Wells

Friday, February 15, 2008

Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen of New Orleans

Actually there are two women who can claim that title, a mother and daughter, both named Marie Laveau.

Very little is known about the first Marie. Accepted wisdom for years has been that Marie I was born in 1794 to a French creole planter, Charles Laveau and his mistress Marquerite Darcentelin Saint Dominique (modern day Haiti) and moved to New Orleans as a child. However, there is compelling evidence that Marie was actually born in 1801 in New Orleans. This is due to research by Ida Fandrich recently who found a baptismal certificate for a Marie Laveau born on September 10, 1801 in New Orleans. Whether this is the same Marie Laveau is still debatable as it was not an uncommon name in New Orleans.

Marie I was described as beautiful, tall, and statuesque with curly black hair, flashing bright eyes, reddish skin and 'good' features (meaning that she favored her white ancestry as opposed to her African). She married a free born man of color Jacques Paris in 1819, which would have made her either 18 or 25 at the time. Jacques however disappeared shortly after their marriage and was presumed dead, although he may just have opted out of the marriage. Whatever the explanation, Marie now called herself 'the Widow Paris.' She worked as a hairdresser for many white Creole women as well as the free women of color.

Marie eventually ended up living with Louis Christophe Duminy de Glapion in a common-law marriage. Fandrich believes that Glapion was not a free man of color as has been repeated in various biographies but a white man who passed in order be accepted as her husband. Although its often been stated that Marie and Glapion had 15 children, Fandrich believes that they only had five, only two of whom lived to adulthood, and that the other children attributed to her belonged to her half-sister, another Marie Laveau.

New Orleans in the years before the Civil War had an interesting society that made it one of the most unusual cities in the nation. In the heirarchy of New Orleans, there were the French Creole planters and their families who occupied the French Quarter, then the Americans who began to arrive in the city after the Lousiana purchase settling in the Garden district, and then you had the gen de couleur or the free people of color who were a kind of shadow society that mimicked the white social structure. Many free people of color even owned slaves. The young daughters of the gen de couleur were offered to the white creole planters at the Quadroon balls, where the most beautiful were chosen to be placees, set up in houses on North Rampart street. The mothers who may themselves have been placees, negotiated the arrangement, whether the children, particularly the sons, would be educated in France. A settlement was normally arranged in case, the Creole planter tired of his placee, in the future.

This was the world that Marie Laveau I lived in. Although Marie had been brought up a Catholic, she became involved with the religion that we know as Voodoo. At this time in New Orleans, it was common for Voodoo to be practiced along side of Catholicism, the way the ancient Celts still kept their ancient practices as Christianity spread through Ireland and Scotland. Voodoo in the United States was a combination of various African religions, superstition, blood ritual and animism. Voodoo came about most likely in Santo Domingo ( now modern day Haiti) where the slaves devoted rituals to the power of nature and the spirits of the dead. The term “voodoo” was probably adapted from the African Fon spirit, “vodu”. For many slaves, these spiritual traditions provided a means of emotional and spiritual resistance to hardships of the life they were made to endure. After Toussaint L'Ouverture overthrew the governement in Santo Domingo, French creole planters who fled brought their slaves with them to New Orleans and they brought Voodoo with them. In the early days, slaves were allowed to congregrate in the evenings after their daily chores.

The main meeting place for Voodoo worship was Congo Square (now Beauregard Square) on North Rampart Street, but these meetings freaked out the white citizens of the city, who feared that the meetings could lead to a slave uprising. As a result, new laws were enacted in 1817 that forbid blacks to get gather for dancing or any other purpose except on Sunday, and then only in places that had been designated by the Mayor of the City. However, it turned out that Congo Square was that place, and the meetings continued as always but only on Sundays. Like Harlem in the 1920's, Congo Square became a popular place for whites and tourists to watch the entertainment.

In New Orleans, Voodoo was a matriarchy, 2/3 were female. At one point there were more than 40 recognized Voodoo priestesses, but Marie Laveau was the 'Boss Woman' of them all. Marie had trained with the famous “Voodoo doctor” Jean Montaigne (Doctor John or John Bayou as he became known), who was then the most powerful Voodoo practitioner in New Orleans, and learned from him how to make the most potent charms, potions and gris-gris. She also gained an extensive knowledge of herbs and natural healing remedies.

Legend has it that Marie acquired her cottage at 1020 St. Ann Street from a grateful father whose son was in trouble with the law. Marie put a green pepper gris-gris under the judge's chair leading him to be lenient. The truth was probably far simpler. Marie had a network of spies made up of servants and slaves that worked in the houses of the elite in New Orleans, which she controlled with fear. She also learned a great deal while dressing the hair of the Creole women who vied for services. Then as now, women tended to confide their secrets about their lives o their hairdressers. Marie used this information for blackmail and to give the illusion that she had learned things from the spirits.

Marie Laveau, her secret knowledge which she had gained from the Creole boudoirs combined with her own considerable knowledge of spells along with her flair, became the most powerful woman in New Orleans. Whites sought her help in their various affairs and amours while blacks saw her as their leader. Judges paid her as much as $1000 to win an election, other whites paid $10 for an personal consultation or visit. She freely helped most blacks. To visit her for a reading became fashionable.

Like other scandalous women, she also learned to cultivate the press. When she died, the Times-Picayune editorialized saying "Much evil dies with her, but should we not add, a great deal of poetry too." She invited the public, press, police, and others thrill-seekers of the forbidden fun to attend. Charging admission made voodoo profitable for the first time. Hundreds would turn up to watch Marie hypnotize her giant snake Zombi at the Voodoo ceremonies. She blended aspects of Catholicism in to Voodoo, adding incense, statues and holy water to the mix. Marie was said to arrange orgies between the quadroom and octoroon women and the white men who paid dearly for her services, replacing the Quadroon balls that had been fashionable before the war.

Despite her reputation as a Voodoo priestess, Marie was also still a devout Catholic. She paid visits to men condemned to death in prison, bringing them food and prayer beads. In 1853 Yellow Fever once again threatened New Orleans. A special committee of gentlemen was quickly appointed to request Laveau’s help on behalf of all the people to minister to the fever stricken. Many who survived the endemic owed their survival to Laveau’s dedicated care and ministrations.

In 1875 Marie Laveau announced her retirement in order to concentrate on tending to the sick and condemned in New Orleans’ prisons. Within a few years however, she moved into a back room of 150 St. Anne Street. There under the care of her eldest daughter Marie Laveau II, she lay bedridden until she finally passed into the world of the “loas” (ancestor spirits) on the 15th June 1881.

After her death, there was a myth that Marie had risen from the grave. In reality, it was Marie's daughter Marie Laveau II, who continued her mother's work well into the 20th century. Marie Laveau II gradually took over the business, thus adding to the many myths and legends that surround the Laveau name. Marie II was a strikingly woman bearing many of her mother’s features; she also had a strong and dominant personality that she used to control the lives of others. Like her mother, Marie II also started out as a hairdresser.

Marie II continued to run rituals and parties from “Maison Blanche” out by Lake Pontchartrain, the house which her mother had built for secret Voodoo meetings and liaisons for the rich elite. Like her mother, she also made special arrangements with the police and media, who never raided her premises without prior notice, and then only for show and appearances sake.

Marie II was also adept in the use of herbs and other healing techniques, and sick people often came to the house on St Anne Street for treatment or a cure. Most of her healing medicines combined the use of natural products, roots and herbs that contained genuine curative elements, but she also employed other factors, including the body’s own natural healing mechanisms and the powerful effects of suggestion. To this end her cures were often accompanied by ritual praying, chanting and the burning of candles and incense for added affect.

While Laveau II continued to reign over the Voodoo ceremonies and run the Maison Blanche, she never gained the same high respect her mother had earned. Apparently she lacked the warmth and compassion of her mother, and instead inspired fear and subservience. Some claim Laveau II drowned on the 11th June 1897 during a big storm on Lake Pontchartrain.

Marie Laveau I managed to transcend racial, social and religious lines in 19th century New Orleans which was unusual in a segregated city, where blacks and whites didn't freely mix after the Civil War. One could say that she raised the practice of voodoo from a local religion practiced by slaves to an art form. To this day, visitors to her tomb in Saint Louis Cemetary #1 draw three crosses (XXX) on its side, hoping that her spirit will grant their wishes. There are those who believe that Marie Laveau returns to life once each year to lead the faithful in worship on St. John's Eve. Another myth says that her ghost has been seen in the cemetery, recognizable thanks to the "tignon", the seven-knotted handkerchief, that she wears around her neck

For further reading:

Great characters of New Orleans - Mel Leavitt

A New Orleans Voudou Priestess: The Legend and Reality of Marie Laveau Carolyn Morrow Long

Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau - Martha Ward

Sources of information: Wikipedia.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Lucy Parsons - An American Revolutionary

Lucy Parson (1853-1942) was an early activist of color, one of the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, the ‘wobblies’); and the widow of executed “Haymarket 8” figure, Albert Parsons. For more than half a century, she fought for the rights of the poor. Lucy's radical activism challenged the racist and sexist sentiments in a time when Americans believed that a woman's place was in the home. She was once described by the Chicago Police Department as "more dangerous than a thousand rioters," in the 1920's.

She born in Texas, where her parents were probably slaves before the Emancipation Proclamation. She always claimed to be of Mexican and American Indian heritage, disavowing having African parentage. Given the Jim Crow laws in the South after Reconstruction, which ended any hope of blacks having equal rights, it would have been prudent for Lucy to have disavowed being black.

Not much is known about her early life before she met and married Albert Parsons, although she apparently was living with a former slave named Oliver Gathings, who she may or may not have been married to, when she met Parsons. Although she and Parsons married in 1871, the marriage may not have been legal given the laws against miscegenation in the South at the time.

Albert's family had deep roots in America soil. His ancestry could be traced back 1632 when his ancestors arrived on the second voyage of The Mayflower. His family fought in the American Revolution, so the revolutionary spirit was deep in his veins. Albert was orphaned by the age of 5, and raised by his brother William Parsons, who became a colonel in the 12th regiment of the Texas Calvary. Albert had volunteered to fight on the side of the Confederacy during the war at the age of 13. After the war, Albert regretted his support for slavery and even apologized to the black nanny who had helped to raise him. He became a radical Republican after the war. The 13th Amendment which gave freedom to all slaves gave rise to the Klu Klux Klan which was particularly strong in Texas. Albert had been involved in registering black voters. When he was shot in the leg and threatened with lynching, the Parsons decided it was prudent for them to move to Chicago.

The Parsons moved to a poor neighborhood, where they became involved with the Social Democratic Party, which was associated with Marxism. Lucy gave birth to two children, Albert Jr. and Lulu. In Chicago, Albert got a job working as a printer for the Chicago Times. The year 1873 was a difficult time; the country was suffering from a deep depression, leaving millions of people unemployed. In 1864, Congress had passed the Contract Labor Law which allowed American businesses to contract and bring in immigrant laborers creating a large unskilled labor population that were driving wages down. However, the labor population was being radicalized by the introduction of socialism and anarchism to the United States.

It was the beginning of the rise of the labor movement in the United States. All over the country workers were getting fed up at working long hours at dangerous jobs, with no security, with companies tacking on extra charges and forcing workers to buy goods from the company store at a mark-up. Industrialists like Andrew Carnegie who had started out poor seemed to have selective memories when it came to remembering their past life of poverty. The rich were getting richer by the minute off the backs of the poor, and they weren't going to take it any longer.

In the summer of 1877, one of the greatest mass strikes took place in response to the depression. Rail workers all over the country joined picket lines to protest wage cuts by the Baltimore Ohio Railroad. In July of that year, the protests 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 the strikers and break it up. Albert Parsons addressed the crowds to promote peaceful ways of negotiating. This helped to bring him to the forefront of the anarchist movement in Chicago and to the attention of the police.

Because of his involvement with organizaing workers, Albert was fired from his job and blacklisted in the printing trade. Lucy opened a dress shop to make ends meet, and with her friend Lizzie Swank, hosted meetings of the International Ladies Garment Works Union. Like most women in the late 20th and 21st century, Lucy found herself juggling work and family life with her political activities.

She began to write articles for many radical publications, including The Socialist and the Alarm, an anarchist weekly which she and Albert helped to found in 1883. Lucy was often considered more dangerous than Albert because she was so outspoken in her beliefs on the rights of the poor. She also upset the image of the woman as the little homemaker by being a militant and radical female.

By 1886, people across the country were had had it with their working conditions, and the squelching of union activities by authorities. There was a huge cry for an 8 hour work day. On May 1st, 350,000 workers across the nation walked off their jobs to participate in a massive general strike to force employers to give in to the 8 hour work day with no cut in pay. 40,000 workers alone walked off their jobs in Chicago. But on May 3d the strike turned violent when police fired into a crowd of unarmed strikers at the McCormick Harvest Works in Chicago. Many of the strikers were wounded, and four were killed.

A meeting was called in Haymarket Square to discuss the situation. Once again the police disrupted the meeting, and an unknown person threw a bomb, killing one officer and 7 civilians, and wounding 67 others. Immediately, the police attacked the crowd, killing more and injuring over 200 others. Police swept the city, rounding up every known radical and anarchist. Even though he had left the Haymarket after giving his speech that day, Albert Parsons was one of 8 men accused of conspiracy to commit murder. The prosecution's case rested on the idea that the men had encouraged whoever threw the bomb by their speeches and articles that they had written. Although Ablert went into hiding in Wisconsin, on the first trial date, he walked into the court to turn himself in.

Lucy found herself under constant surveillance by the police. She was even arrested under the suspicion that she knew the whereabouts of her husband. However, she was never charged with conspiracy in the bombing. The rationale was that women were incapable of such radical and militant action.

In October of 1887, despite the lack of hard evidence, all 8 men were sentenced to death by hanging. Of the 8 men tried, one man, Louis Lingg committed suicide in prison, Samuel Fielden and Mihcael Schwab were eventually given life sentences, and another Oscar Neebe received 15 years on appeal. Lucy, who was angered and appalled that her husband should die for a crime he didn’t commit, headed a campaign for clemency. She knew the only reason that he was sentenced to hang was because of his radical beliefs. Lucy toured the country, handing out leaflets about the unjust trial and raising funds. Everywhere she went, Lucy was greeted by police who refused her entry into meeting halls.

Lucy even found herself at odds with the Knights of Labor, the group to which she and Albert had belonged. Terence Powderly, the leader of the Knights, took a passive stance. He didn’t believe in striking, discouraging members from using that tactic to obtain their demands. He was appalled by the increasing radicalization of the labor movement, and felt that the government should make an example of the Haymarket defendants. Even without their support, Lucy kept on speaking out, gaining more and more attention for the Haymarket case and making a name for herself.

Unfortunately it was all in vain. The Governor of Illinois at the time was under tremendous pressure to execute the men despite the fact that the evidence was completely circumstantial. The four men were executed on November 11, 1887. When Lucy brought her 2 children to see their father for the last time, she was arrested along with them, taken to jail, stripped and left naked with her children in a cold cell until Albert was executed. Lucy vowed to keep on fighting, even though she now feared for her life.

Lucy was left in near poverty after Albert’s death, her only support was a small pension of eight dollars a week plus $2 each for the two children and $1 for a third set up by the Pioneer Aid and Support Association for the widows of the Haymarket martyrs. She continued to operate a dress-making business to make ends meet but more and more of her time was taken up with her political activities. In 1892, Lucy briefly published Freedom, a Revolutionary/Anarchist-Communist monthly. Because of her radical beliefs, she was often arrested for giving public speeches or distributing anarchist literature. Lucy's First Amendment rights were trampled on repeatedly by the police. Although Lucy was devoted to the anarchist cause, she found herself at odds with some of the more prominent members such as Emma Goldman and their promotion of free love. Lucy felt that marriage and children were the natural order of things. She also believed that racism would be eliminated once blacks were able to have the same economic freedom that whites had achieved.

Her personal life continued to be filled with tragedy. Her daughter Lulu Eda died at the age of 8, two years after her father's execution, and her son, Albert Parsons, Jr. died from tuberculosis while incarcerated in a hospital for the insane. Lucy fell into a relationship with another young anarchist named Martin Lacher who helped her publish Albert's autobiography. However, he was abusive and Lucy had to seek police protection against him.

In 1905, Lucy participated in the founding of the International Workers of the World becoming only the second woman of color to join what became known as the 'Wobblies.' She also began editing The Liberator, which was the newspaper that supported the IWW in Chicago. Over the years she continued to write and give speeches on behalf of the workers. She wrote letters and articles protesting the trial of the Scottsoboro boys and Sacco and Vanzetti. Although she never officially joined the Communist party, Lucy became involved with communist led organizations including the National Committee of the International Labor Defense that defended labor activists and unjustly accused African-Americans. Lucy was quoted as saying "My conception of the strike of the future is not to strike and go out and starve but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production." (Wobblies! 14). With these words, Lucy Parsons anticipated the sit-down strikes that took place in the United States later in the 20th century.

Lucy Parsons died on March 7, 1942 at the age of 89 after in house fire. Her lover, George Markstall, who she had lived with since 1910, died the next day from wounds he suffered from trying to save her. Even after her death, the state considered her to be a threat, the FBI and the police seized all 1500 of her books and personal papers. She was cremated and buried near to her husband, by the Haymarket monument, in Chicago.

Lucy Parson's life story is one of how a woman with very little education became a powerful voice for the underprivileged. She honed her voice agitating for her husband's freedom during the Haymarket trial. Although she was not a feminist, Lucy fought for the rights of all individuals to have freedom and a fair wage. It is only in recent years that there has been more interest in Lucy Parsons and the work she did after the death of Albert Parsons. Unfortunately there is only one known biography of her by Carolyn Anspaugh that was published in the late 1970's. Her story cries out for a sensitive treatment on the big or small screen (paging Halle Berry) to bring her story to a wider audience.

For more information on Lucy, The Lucy Parsons Project has a wealth of links including links to Lucy's own writings.

For more information on the Haymarket riots: