On Friday, May 20, 2022, over 250 Chicagoans gathered on the 2600 block of North Emmett Street, steps from the Logan Square Blue Line station, to cut the ribbon on and officially rename Logan Square’s newest all-affordable housing development. The following are my remarks, as prepared for delivery, which explain why it’s so fitting that Logan Square’s hard-fought all-affordable housing development be named in honor of Chicago labor organizer Lucy Gonzalez Parsons.
Good morning. It may not seem like it based upon the clouds, but today is a beautiful day on Chicago’s northwest side. It’s a beautiful day because we are finally cutting the ribbon on Logan Square’s much anticipated all-affordable, transit-oriented housing development — the Lucy Gonzalez Parsons Apartments.
It is fitting that this building — this building that will house 100 working families — is named after Lucy E. Gonzalez Parsons. Not because Lucy was called “more dangerous than a thousand rioters,” or because Lucy was called “the most talented and eloquent woman” of her age.
It is fitting because Lucy’s life and story — the story of a working-class woman of color who fought for the needs of working people against great odds — mirrors the story of our community, and how our community fought to make this housing development a reality.
Lucy Gonzalez Parsons was born into slavery on a Texas plantation. After the abolition of slavery, Lucy would marry Albert Parsons, a former Confederate soldier turned Radical Republican, who traveled the state of Texas registering former slaves to vote. The couple married in 1872, just weeks before Texas would ban interracial marriage. A year later, the couple would come to Chicago to escape the prejudice they faced in the Jim Crow South. It is perhaps for this reason that Lucy — a Black woman — would claim she was of mixed Mexican and Indigenous descent.
While the true story of Lucy’s heritage remains a question, one thing is clear: Lucy and her family were diverse, multicultural, and multiracial — like the inhabitants of this building, and the diversity of Logan Square that we love.
In Chicago, the family would flourish and grow — Lucy and Albert would have two children and become leaders in the nascent movement for workers’ rights.
On May 1, 1886, Lucy and Albert would lead a march of 80,000 workers down Michigan Avenue – demanding an eight hour work day with no cut in pay. A few days later, at another protest for the eight hour work day, an unknown assailant threw a bomb. Workers and police officers would die in the resulting clash, and Albert, alongside seven other labor organizers, would be scapegoated and wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death.
Lucy would fight to save her husband’s life — she traveled the state and the nation organizing for clemency for Albert and the other wrongfully convicted men.
On November 11, 1887, Lucy brought her two young children to see their father one last time. The police did not allow her to pass. She was arrested, stripped naked, and left in a jail cell while her husband was killed. His final words would be: “Let the voice of the people be heard!”
Of this grave injustice, this horrible trauma she faced, Lucy would later say: “Oh, Misery, I have drunk thy cup of sorrow to its dregs, but I am still a rebel.”
Lucy would go on to be one of two women delegates at the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World – the labor union that represents Dill Pickle Food Co-Op workers today. She would go on to organize against racism, lynchings, and sexism.
On January 17, 1915, she led a march of 15,000 unemployed and homeless Chicagoans down Halsted. She was arrested for leading this march, but undeterred, she organized yet another huge demonstration less than a month later, on February 12. This demonstration, joined by Jane Addams and the American Federation of Labor, forced City Hall to act, and unemployed Chicagoans were put to work building sidewalks, shoveling snow, and filling potholes.
Facing adversity throughout her life, Lucy would not back down. Faced with racism, sexism, police violence, poverty, and political repression she continued to wake up day after day and fight. Lucy’s tenacity in the face of adversity mirrors the tenacity of our community in the struggle to turn a parking lot into homes.
We marched, we petitioned, we canvassed, we organized, and we would not take no for an answer. We came together, just like the Chicagoans Lucy brought together, and we fought for what we knew was right.
It’s quite remarkable that the grassroots campaign to win the Lucy Gonzalez Parsons Apartments brought so many different people and groups together in a way that our community had not seen before – community groups and neighbors that had previously found themselves on opposite sides of issues came together in coalition.
The effort to turn a parking lot into 100 working families’ homes created a unity in our neighborhood that was seen by all at our community meeting for this development in April 2019, and that is still seen today – a coalition that helped pass historic legislation to protect two- to four-flat apartment buildings in our neighborhood, and a coalition that will also help build future affordable housing developments in our neighborhood, including at a lot just down the street – 2525 N. Kedzie – owned by the CTA.
Lucy Gonzalez Parsons taught us that when we come together we can accomplish great things. It took many people coming together to get this housing built.
I want to thank the leaders and staff at Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, the organizers, volunteers and housing advocates at Logan Square Neighborhood Association, United Neighbors of the 35th Ward, Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance, Logan Square Preservation, Metropolitan Planning Council, Chicago Housing Authority, Mayor Lightfoot and her administration, Chicago Department of Housing, Chicago Department of Planning and Development, our 35th Ward staff, and the union workers who built this building – Operating Engineers Local 150 and Laborers Local 1. And I want to thank the members of the Illinois Labor History Society who are joining us here today.
Most importantly I want to thank every single Chicagoan, every single neighbor, who signed a petition, attended a meeting, and made their voice heard in support of this development. It took a coalition to get us here today. We should all be so proud of our collective efforts.
To paraphrase the great Lucy E. Gonzalez Parsons: “Let us set aside our differences and set our faces towards the future – because there is no power on earth that can stop women and men determined to be free.”
Our community was determined to take a step towards a greener and more just future. Our community was determined to take a publicly owned parking lot and convert it into dignified housing for 100 working families. Our community was determined to take a step towards addressing Chicago’s legacy of segregation, and to take a step towards a future where housing is a human right.
Logan Square, Chicago, we have taken that step together. So let us keep moving together, let us keep striving together. Fifty years from now, almost all of us here will have passed — but Lucy Gonzalez Parsons Apartments will continue to stand in the heart of our community, as a testament to our values and to all, all that we can accomplish when we unite and fight for a better world.
Lucy Vive! La Lucha Sigue!
Lucy Vive! La Lucha Sigue!
Lucy lives, the struggle goes on.