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Parsons Archive Bibliography Collected Works Commentary Graphics

Biography of Albert R. Parsons

    Born in Montgomery, Alabama on June 20, 1848.

    Died on"Black Friday," November 11, 1887.

The Life of Albert Parsons, by Lucy Parsons

Alan Calmer, Labor Agitator: The Story of Albert R. Parsons.

A Summary of the Life of Albert Parsons
Evan Kelley

Haymarket Martyr Albert Parsons was born on June 24th, 1848. At age five, he was orphaned and subsequently was raised by an African American slave named Esther. It is probable that this experience helped to shape his egalitarian views on race. However, he still served in the Confederate army under his brother, Major William Parsons. After the war he openly condemned slavery and began to develop as a socialist. He began to publish a journal called the Spectator, which argued for equal rights for African Americans.

In 1873, Parson married Lucy Waller. Lucy was half Creek Indian and half Mexican* and, while initially living in Texas, conservative general disapproval and further pressure from the Ku Klux Klan caused the two to move to Chicago. It was here that both Albert and Lucy joined the Socialist Labor Party in 1876. They also helped to found the International Working People Association (IWPA), a labor organization that promoted racial and sexual equality. Furthermore, Parsons became the editor of the radical journal, Alarm.

In the midst of the labor strike for an eight hour work day, and in protest to the police brutality that caused the deaths of four workers, Parsons spoke at the laborers demonstration in Haymarket Square on May fourth, 1886. That morning at around 10 a.m. 180 policemen arrived at the scene and told the crowd to disperse. At this point, a bomb was thrown at the police from an alleyway. The explosion killed eight men (one, a police officer) and injured dozens more. The police immediately attacked. Several were killed, hundreds were injured.

Witnesses identified Rudolph Schnaubelt as the bomb thrower, though arrested, he was released without charge. He soon fled to Argentina and was never heard from again. It would later be suspected and claimed by some that Schnaubelt was actually paid by the police to throw the bomb to start the pandemonium and break up the demonstration. After Scnaubelt's release, the police arrested Samuel Fielden, August Spies, Adolph Fisher, Louis Lingg, Oscar Neebe, Michael Schwab and George Engel. They sought to arrest Parsons as well, but he fled. Nevertheless, on the first day of trial, Parsons appeared in court by his free will to stand by his comrades.

During the trial, a number of witnesses were able to prove that none of the eight convicted had thrown the bomb. At this point, prosecution set towards charging all eight with conspiracy to commit murder, arguing that speeches and articles written by the individuals influenced the unknown bomber to his actions. Written works, as well as conversations reported by infiltrators (the police had spies that infiltrated anarchist meetings), were used to show that the men thought violence could be used as a revolutionary tool. Sadly, despite the lack of evidence and the preposterous charge, all eight men were found guilty. Parsons, Spies, Fisher, Lingg, Engel were sentenced to death. Neebe, Fielden and Scwab were sentenced to life imprisonment. Parsons was killed by hanging on November 10, 1887.

*Although Lucy claimed Mexican and Native American ancestry, she was born a slave in VA and was moved by her owner, along with other slaves, to Texas during the Civil War in order to prevent them from seeking refuge among unionists. Lucy's owner was likely her father. Source: Eric Foner, "Street Fighting Woman", NYRB, Dec. 21, 2017, review of Jacqueline Jones: Goddess of Anarchy.


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