Lucy Parsons, née Gonzalez, was born in Texas to parents of Native American, African American and Mexican ancestry; one or both of them may have been slaves. In 1871, she married Albert Parsons, a former Confederate soldier, and the couple had to flee north due to their political work and their interracial marriage. They settled in Chicago, where they became labor organizers and participated in anarchist and revolutionary activities. She began writing for The Socialist and The Alarm, the journal of the International Working People's Association (IWPA) that she and her husband had helped to establish. Her most famous article, "To Tramps," advocated "propaganda by the deed," i.e., violent direct action or the threat of such action, to win rights for the workers. In 1887, her husband was executed along with other activists who were probably scapegoats for the Haymarket Riot of the year before. In 1888, she went to London to address the Socialist League of England, and spoke alongside William Morris and Peter Kropotkin.
In 1892, with Lizzy Holmes, she briefly published a periodical called Freedom: A Revolutionary Anarchist-Communist Monthly. She was arrested numerous times for her public speeches or distribution of anarchist literature. In 1905, she helped found the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and began editing its Chicago-based newspaper, The Liberator. In 1925, she began devoting much of her time to working with the International Labor Defense of the Communist Party, which defended labor activists and African Americans such as the Scottsboro Eight and helped pave the way for the civil rights movement nearly three decades later. She continued to be active in the fight against oppression until her death, making one of her last major appearances in 1941.