We don’t know if Lucy Parsons (1853-1942) was really born on June 27th. But why not honor her with this day?
After all, it was June 27, 1905 when the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) opened their first convention in Chicago. It’s the birthday of Helen Keller, a socialist and a card-carrying IWW member. Charles Stewart Parnell (1846) and Emma Goldman (1869) also share birthdays on this day. The uprising on the Russian battleship Potemkin began in 1905. In 1969 the first night of the Stonewall uprising began in New York City.
Here is Lucy’s story when she came to Connecticut in 1886:
Lucy Parsons was met at New Haven’s Union Station by a group of “anarchists and cigar makers,” according to a press report. It was October 30, 1886, and she was on a two-month speaking tour in support of her husband who had just been sentenced to death.
Albert Parsons and seven other men had been convicted of inciting the “Haymarket riot,” a massive peaceful demonstration in Chicago just five months earlier on May 4th. Striking workers were in Haymarket Square, demanding the eight-hour day and an end to police repression, when a bomb exploded in the crowd killing several police officers.
The police fired into the crowd indiscriminately, killing and injuring many innocent workers. To this day no one knows for certain who caused the explosion, but Parsons and most of his compatriots were hanged for it. The labor movement was dealt a serious blow.
Lucy addressed an enthusiastic crowd at New Haven’s Lincoln Rink that Saturday night. She spoke for more than ninety minutes to 200 people, mostly German and Polish workers. A number of Yale students attended as well. She talked about the Haymarket trial, which had been covered in all the state’s newspapers.
Parsons urged the abolition of the wage system and of a government that was captured by capitalism and exploited the working class. “Nature made all the laws man needed,” she proclaimed. Two police detectives were in the audience, and when one of them got up to leave, the crowd booed him.
“You may have expected me to belch forth great flames of dynamite and stand before you with bombs in my hands,” the speaker told the crowd. “If you are disappointed, you have only the capitalist press to thank for it.”
On that same tour Parsons spoke to an even bigger crowd in Bridgeport. According to historian Carolyn Asbaugh’s biography Lucy Parsons, American Revolutionary, she was thrilled by the eagerness of the audience to learn about anarchism.
“My trip is having its effect,” she wrote Albert. “The powers that be don’t know what to do with me. One New York paper suggests that Albert Parsons ‘be let out as a compromise to get Mrs. Parsons to stop talking.’”
Although their execution was delayed for a year due to the intense support campaign generated by Lucy and others, the Haymarket martyrs were hanged on November 11, 1887. Her work, however, was far from over. In 1905 she was back in Chicago, on the platform with Big Bill Haywood, ushering in the birth of the Industrial Workers of the World. Lucy Parsons remained an activist until her death in 1942.