Haymarket Incidents: Albert Parsons: Freedom is Bread, Bread Freedom!

 [The state tried, convicted, and put to death four of the eight Haymarket Martyrs.  The four were hanged:  when the trapdoor was ordered opened, observers watched the bodies drop and dangle, twitching and jerking for seven cruel minutes until they died.  While Albert Parsons awaited the date of execution, he was asked by the Knights of Labor to write something of an autobiography, an excerpt of which follows.  (click here to read the entire piece): In his statement he brings his conviction up to date to indict not only those pass sentence on him, but the entire system for which they judge: "For free speech and the right of assembly five labor orators & organizers are condemned to die. For free press and free thought three labor Editors are sent to the scaffold. "These eight men," said the attorneys of the monopolists "are picked out by the grand jury because they are the leaders of thousands who are equally guilty with them and we punish them to make examples of them for the others." This much for opinions sake, for free thought, free speech, free press & public assembly."  Parsons was one of the labor editors he mentions and a member of the International Typographical Union Local #16 from Chicago.]

. . .In August 1873 I accompanied an Editorial Excursion, as the representative of the Texas Agriculturist at Austin, Texas. I in company with a large delegation of Texas

Image of the first manuscript page of Parsons' Autobiography

editors made an extended tour, through Texas, Indian Nation, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania as guests of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway. It was on this trip in Sept, 1873, that I decided to settle in Chicago. I had married in Austin Texas in the fall of 1872 and my wife joining me at Philadelphia we came to Chicago together where we have lived till the present time. I at once became a member of Typographical Union No. 16 and “Subbed” for a time on the Inter-Ocean, when I went to work under “permit” on the Times. Here I worked over four years holding a situation at “the case”. In 1874 I became interested in the “Labor question,” growing out of an effort made by Chicago workingpeople at that time to compel the “Relief & Aid Society” to render to the suffering poor of the city an account of the vast sums of money (several millions of dollars) held by that society and contributed by the whole world to relieve the distress occasioned by the great Chicago fire of 1871. It was claimed by the working people that the money was being used for purposes foreign to the intention of its donors,  . . . click here to read more.

                  FREEDOM

Toil and pray! Thy world cries cold;

Speed thy prayer, for time is gold;

At thy door Need’s subtle tread;

Pray in haste! for time is bread.

And thou plow’st and thou hew’st,

And thou rivet’st and sewest,

And thou harvestest in vain;

Speak! 0, man; what is thy gain?

Fly’st the shuttle day and night,

Heav’st the ones of earth to light,

Fill’st with treasures plenty’s horn–

Brim’st it oe’r with wine and corn.

But who hath thy meal prepared,

Festive garments with thee shared;

And where is thy cheerful hearth,

Thy good shield in battle dearth?

Thy creations round thee see-

All thy work, but nought for thee!

Yea, of all the chains alone

Thy hand forged, these are thine own.

Chains that round the body cling,

Chains that lame the spirit’s wing,

Chains that infants’ feet, indeed,

Clog! O, workmen! Lo! Thy meed.

What ye rear and bring to light,

Profits by the idle wight,

What ye weave of diverse hue,

‘Tis a curse-your only due.

What ye build, no room insures,

Not a sheltering roof to yours,

And by haughty ones are trod-

Ye, who toil their feet hath shod.

Human bees! Has nature’s thrift

Given thee naught but honey’s gift?

See! the drones are on the wing,

Have you lost the will to sting?

Man of labor, up, arise!

Know the might that in thee lies,

Wheel and shaft are set at rest

At thy powerful arm’s behest.

Thine oppressor’s hand recoils,

When thou, weary of thy toils,

Shun’st thy plough; thy task begun

When thou speak’st: Enough is done!

Break this two-fold yoke in twain;

Break thy want’s enslaving chain;

Break thy slavery’s want and dread;

Bread is freedom, freedom bread.

Albert R. PARSONS

poem reprinted from The Haymarket Scrapbook, edited by Dave Roediger and Franklin Rosemont (Charles Kerr, 1986)

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