Early in 1885 Chicago’s elite West Side Philosophical Society invited 37-year-old Albert Parsons, a Confederate veteran turned labor organizer, to speak. Parsons started out ironic, noting that his usual constituency was shabbily dressed, yet their labor enabled the better-off to dress well. “Are not these charitable people–these sans-culottes–very generous to you?” he asked his well-heeled audience. But, he added, the 35,000 Chicagoans who went hungry every day wouldn’t be generous forever: “Listen now to the voice of hunger, when I tell you that unless you heed the cry of the people, unless you harken to the voice of reason, you will be awakened by the thunders of dynamite!” On May 4, 1886, his threat seemed to come true when someone killed six policemen with a bomb at a labor rally at Haymarket Square on Randolph Street. Parsons and three fellow agitators were hanged, not because they threw the bomb–the culprit was never found–but because their speeches might have encouraged whoever did. Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing That Divided Gilded Age America (Pantheon), James Green’s vivid account of this watershed moment in American history, puts the notorious story in context–from the Civil War origins of the modern labor movement to the bombing and the travesty trial and up to the cautiously worded memorial that today marks the spot. Thu 5/4, 7 PM, Barbara’s Bookstore, 1218 S. Halsted, 312-413-2665; Sat 5/6, 11 AM, Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton, 312-943-9090.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Randy H. Goodman.