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This work appears in Anarchy Archives with permission of International Publishers Co. 239 W 23rd Street - New York, NY and located on the web at:

Labor agitator: The story of Albert R. Parsons

Alan Calmer

New York, International publishers, 1937.


AT the close of the war, Albert returned to his home in Waco. All the property he owned was a good mule- but it proved to be quite a valuable possession. He ran into a man who had to get out of the state in a hurry; the man had forty acres of corn in his field standing ready for harvest; Parsons traded the mule for the corn.

Then he rounded up a number of Negro slaves and offered them regular farmhands' wages if they would help him reap the harvest. They jumped at the opportunity, for it was the first salary they had ever received.

He made enough out of the sale of the corn to pay for half a year's tuition at the local university, which he had long dreamed of atending. There he studied moral philosophy and political economy.

His instructors, and everybody else who knew him, liked Albert. He was wild as a buck when he returned from the front - but so were all the young Texans. He moved in the best society and was welcome wherever he went. To his neighbors he was a clean-cut, gritty, pleasant and - considering everything - a well-mannered young man.

By the time he was twenty, however, something happened which was to suddenly end his popularity. He had begun to think for himself, and he found it impossible to accept many Southern conventions that he had formerly taken for granted. Working as a typesetter didn't give him much of a chance to tell people about his new convictions - but it did increase his desire to do so. Since these new beliefs were decidedly unorthodox, there was no place where he could put them into print; so he started a small weekly paper of his own, calling it the Spectator. In it he advocated the support of the Reconstruction measure granting civil rights to the Negroes.

Part of the reason for arriving at this conclusion was very personal. "I was strongly influenced in taking this step," he later wrote, "out of respect and love for the memory of dear old 'Aunt Easter,' then dead, and formerly a slave and house-servant of my brother's family, she having been my constant associate and having personally raised me, with great kindness and a mother's love."

In the main, however, his new, humanitarian convictions had grown out of his reading and independent thinking, based on what he saw and heard during the years after his return from the war. He had found that in spite of the defeat of the Confederacy, the old slaveowners - thanks to President Johnson's proclamation of amnesty and pardon - were back in power. Things hadn't changed very much. Many of the Negroes continued to work for their former masters; most of the landowners even believed that slavery would be perpetuated. During this period, Negro suffrage was shelved. At first Parsons had more or less accepted the situation, but he was shocked by several incidents in which Negroes, demanding their freedom, were hounded by his neighbors.

When the Radical Republicans were victorious in the Congressional elections of '66, drastic changes took place. As in other rebel states, the conservative government of Texas was swept away. General Sheridan, appointed commander of the "Fifth Military District" which included Texas and Louisiana, set up Radical-Military rule. Carpetbaggers as well as native loyalists organized the Negroes into Union Leagues. Radical Republican papers, usually edited by Southerners who were sneeringly called scalawags, sprang up in the state and clamored for Negro rights.

This was the wave which caught Parsons; his paper was started in Waco for this purpose. The Spectator appeared in 1868, during the tensest moment of the Reconstruction struggle in Texas, after Sheridan had been forced out by President Johnson and succeeded by General Hancock, a Democrat whose sympathies were with the Southern planters. The latter organized guerrila gangs terrorizing the new freedmen and intimidating the Republicans. Out of these early groups rose the spectre of the Ku Klux. Bands of giant horsemen, shrouded in white, raided Negro settlements, whipped and even murdered their victims.

It was during this critical time that Parsons first tried his talents as an editor. He became a Republican, went into politics. He took to the stump, upholding the rights of Negro suffrage. The Reconstruction acts had been passed and the Negroes had their first chance to vote in Texas. The enfranchised slaves came to know and idolize Parsons as their friend and champion.

Naturally these new activities cut Parsons off from most of his former friends. His army comrades cursed and threatened him. He was branded a heretic, a traitor, a renegade. His life was endangered. Since his arch enemies made up most of the reading audience in Waco, there was no chance of continuing with the Spectator, and it soon expired.

Nevertheless, he continued his newspaper work. He became a traveling correspondent for the Houston Daily Telegraph, which had been a conservative paper before the Republicans carried the state. This new job took him on a long trip through northwestern Texas, on horseback.

While he was in Johnson county, where he had once lived with his brother's family, he met an attractive young girl of Spanish-Aztec descent. She lived in a beautiful section of the country near Buffalo creek with her uncle, a Mexican ranchero. Parsons lingered in the neighborhood as long as he could; three years later he returned to marry Lucy Eldine Gonzalez.

Shortly before his marriage he became a minor office holder under Grant's administration. He served as reading secretary of the Texas State Senate, of which his brother William was a member, and later as chief deputy collector of the U.S. Internal Revenue at Austin. In 1873, when the Republicans were defeated in the state elections, he resigned and joined a group of Texan editors in a tour which took him as far east as Pennsylvania. In the course of the trip he decided to settle in Chicago. He wrote to his wife, who joined him at Philadephia, and together they reached the Windy City late in the summer of 1873.


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