Campaign to name park for Lucy Parsons

CHICAGO – A proposal to name a northwest side park in honor of Lucy Ella Gonzales Parsons, a working-class leader and spouse of one of the Haymarket martyrs, has drawn heated opposition by the Fraternal Order of Police here. There is, however, widespread support for naming the park after Parsons, including from Mayor Richard Daley.

Supporters told a recent meeting of the park commissioners that Parsons had a long history in fighting for social justice and that of the city’s 555 parks, only 27 are named for women and only one for an African American woman.

The FOP opposes the proposal on the grounds that Parsons’ husband Albert was a “cop killer” stemming from the bomb thrown in the Haymarket protest in 1886 that killed an officer. This lie has long been refuted by historians.

“This is surprising,” said labor historian William Adelman, who noted that he and FOP President Mark Donahue were part of a committee that has completed work on a design for a new monument at the site of the protest. “We revisited the entire history of the tragedy. He agreed and voted for the design.”

Albert Parsons was one of eight labor leaders framed and tried for the bombing, which is generally attributed to a police provocateur. Albert Parsons wasn’t even present at Haymarket, but was caring for the couple’s two children while Lucy was organizing a meeting of garment workers. Nevertheless, he was one of eight who were convicted and one of four executed. The survivors were later pardoned by Gov. John Peter Altgeld and are honored with a monument at Waldheim Cemetery, which Lucy led the fight to erect.

Lucy Parsons was born in Texas in 1853 of mixed African American, Mexican and Native American ancestry. She married Albert, a radical Republican, and both fought for African American voting rights and against the KKK lynch terror. Threats forced them to flee Texas and they settled in Chicago in 1873 where Lucy became a dressmaker and an early organizer of the garment workers’ union. Albert worked for a newspaper until his union activities led to his dismissal.

After the Haymarket frame-up, Lucy led the campaign to free her husband. She continued fighting for worker’s rights, civil liberties and against racism while raising their children after his execution. She became involved in the International Labor Defense, fought for the freedom of Sacco and Vanzetti, Tom Mooney and Warren Billings and the Scottsboro Nine.

She led many demonstrations of the unemployed, homeless and hungry, including a memorable 1915 Poor People’s March of the Unemployed in Chicago, where “Solidarity Forever” was sung for the first time.

For years she was harassed by the Chicago Police Department, who often arrested her on phony charges to prevent her from speaking at mass meetings. At age 86 she joined the Communist Party, USA. Following her death in a fire at her home, the police and FBI confiscated all her personal papers and writings.

Please voice your support for the park name proposal by writing to Timothy Mitchell, General Superintendent, Chicago Park District, 541 N. Fairbanks Ct., Chicago IL 60611.