Little is known about the early life of Lucy Parsons. She had an African American, Native American, and Mexican ancestry. She was born in Texas around 1853, during the Civil War Era, and it is likely that her parents were slaves. During her lifetime, in order to disguise her racial origins in a prejudiced society, Lucy went under many surnames. She often went by Lucy Gonzales, denying her African American roots, while claiming her Mexican heritage as the cause of her dark skin tone.
Around 1870, while living with a former slave named Oliver Gathings, Lucy met Albert Parsons, who would soon become her husband. Their marriage, however, was probably not legal, since miscegenation laws (laws forbidding marriage or cohabitation between white people and members of other races) prevented interracial marriages at the time.
In 1872, while the South was instituting repressive Jim Crow segregation laws, Lucy and Albert were forced to leave Texas due to their political involvement. Albert had worked diligently on registering Black voters and was shot in the leg and threatened with lynching. He and Lucy also felt threatened because of their interracial marriage.
Lucy and Albert arrived in Chicago in 1873, where Albert quickly found a job as a printer for the Chicago Times. This was a difficult time for working people all over the nation, especially in industrial cities like Chicago, because the country had fallen into a depression, leaving millions of people unemployed. The passing of the Contract Labor Law of 1864 allowed American businesses to contract and bring in immigrant laborers. A large, unskilled pool of workers grew in Chicago, which drove wages down. The laboring population, however, was being radicalized by the introduction of socialist and anarchist ideology to the United States.