of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American
Radical" by Jacqueline Jones; Basic Books (464
Parsons knew how to use a soapbox. In pamphlets, in
packed lecture halls and on real soapboxes in parks
around the country, she captured media attention from
the 1870s through the 1930s with her calls for workers
to rise up against brutal industrialists and corrupt
police. "Let us kill them without mercy, and let it
be a war of extermination without pity," goes one
of her quotes.
words for the impassive wife, mother and dressmaker seen
in photos. But Parsons’ life was one of contradiction.
Born to an enslaved black mother, she championed the
cause of white working classes. She appeared to dote on
her husband, but was willing to see him hanged. Her life
was all about the struggle to bring down capitalism and
replace it with a society in which people worked freely
Jacqueline Jones uses research to give Parsons’ saga
epic sweep, recapturing a time that could have reshaped
the United States if things had gone differently. She
traces the fiery Parsons from antebellum Virginia to
post-Reconstruction Texas to Chicago, where the deadly
Haymarket affair of 1886 became her defining moment.
is seen as a "principled" anarchist who joined
many radical groups only to quit in spats over what the
new world order should look like. Old age finds her
unrepentant and somewhat mystified that the inevitable
revolution did not come.
made good copy then, and she does now. Many scenes will
have the reader thinking, "Oh, no, she didn’t."