I submit the following series of posts In glorious tribute to, and heartfelt celebration of, one of the finest and most important public intellectuals and authentic revolutionary activists and organizers in the history of this country, the great and indefatigable Grace Lee Boggs--and a living legend if there ever was one. Imagine still being alive to acknowledge one's very own centennial year? What an inspiration!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY GRACE! Thank you so much for what you so brilliantly and lovingly contributed to our collective struggle for freedom, justice, equality, self determination and COMMUNITY well over seven decades (!) now. May your extraordinary and sustaining light continue to shine. WE LOVE YOU...
Grace Lee Boggs, Activist And American Revolutionary, Turns 100
June 27, 2015
Grace Lee Boggs, who has spent much of her life advocating for civil rights and labor rights, became such a noted figure in Detroit's Black Power movement that people assumed she must be partially black. In some of her FBI files, Boggs, who is Chinese-American, was described as "probably Afro Chinese."
(We'll let that sit with you for a moment.)
And that's not the only assumption she's defied. For almost a century — she turned 100 Saturday — she's challenged how people think about their own activism.
Many people — in and out of Detroit — have been honoring her life this year. Her own organization, the Boggs Center, hosted events and lectures all this week to celebrate her life; the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center shared a hundred of Boggs' best quotes, one for each of her years; and the James and Grace Lee Boggs School, a charter school she helped start a few years ago, threw her a birthday party.
The Start Of Her Revolution
Born in Providence, R.I., to Chinese immigrants in 1915, Boggs studied at Barnard College and went on to earn her Ph.D. in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College. For years, she pored over the work of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Polanyi and Karl Marx, and even translated three of Marx's essays from German to English. She was transfixed by the process and challenge of thinking through complicated ideas.
After finishing grad school, Boggs struggled to find work — any work, she told a group of students in 2012. "Even department stores would say, 'We don't hire Orientals,' " she recalled. So she moved to the Midwest, where she found a job with the University of Chicago's philosophy library. It paid only $10 a week, a stipend so low she was forced to find free housing in a rat-filled basement.
But even the rats had an upside. One day, as Boggs was walking through her neighborhood, she came across a group of people protesting poor living conditions — which included rat-infested housing. This, Boggs recalled, connected her with the black community for the very first time.
"I was aware that people were suffering, but it was more of a statistical thing," Boggs said. "Here in Chicago I was coming into contact with it as a human thing."
A few years later, in the 1940s, she moved to Detroit to help edit the radical newsletter Correspondence. There, she met a charismatic auto worker and activist named James Boggs.
Courtesy of American Revolutionary
They married in 1953.
Together, the couple became two of the city's most noted activists, tackling issues related to labor and civil rights, feminism, Black Power, Asian Americans and the environment. In 1974, they wrote Revolution And Evolution In The Twentieth Century; in 1998, she published an autobiography, Living For Change; and in 2011, she co-wrote The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism For The Twenty-First Century with Scott Kurashige, a professor and author.
A Human Experience
Though many of the Boggs' ideas centered around revolution, her personal philosophies were guided more by human experience — and the individual's own ability to transform his or her world — than overthrowing a system.
As I've grown older, I've realized that philosophy has to do with how we value ourselves as human beings, and how we look at ourselves, and how we relate to reality.
Grace Lee Boggs
In 2012, she gave a lecture at the University of California, Berkeley, with the activist Angela Davis. A group of students applauded her when the conversation turned to using non-violence — which Boggs endorses — in protest.
Boggs, who pairs her heady intellectualism with a wry humor, was quick to interject.
"All of you who are clapping, I suggest you do some more thinking," she told the crowd in a gently mocking reprimand.
She suggested they react with reflection, instead of an automatic response.
Grace Lee Boggs in Detroit in the 1950s. Courtesy of American Revolutionary
Boggs has helped shape the thinking of generations of activists, including Tawana Honeycomb Petty, a writer and community organizer who also serves on the Boggs Center board.
"There isn't a go-along-to-get-along [attitude]," Petty says. "She invites and challenges and provides us opportunity to share what we're thinking, and we can struggle back and forth."
James Boggs died in 1993, when Grace was 78. After her husband's death, Grace became even more active in Detroit's activist communities.
"I was still trying to figure out what I was going to do on my own or, indeed, whether there was any 'my own.' That is what often happens when you lose the person with whom you have lived and worked closely for decades," she wrote in her autobiography. "Especially if you are a woman, you need time to re-create yourself, to discover who you are."
I was still trying to figure out what I was going to do on my own or, indeed, whether there was any 'my own.'
In 2005, she began writing a weekly column for the Michigan Citizen, a Detroit-area newspaper, until she was 98. Two years ago, keeping in line with her dedication to working with young people, she helped start the James And Grace Lee Boggs School, a charter school that weaves Detroit — and its issues — into its curriculum.
Boggs, who is in hospice care and was unavailable for an interview, has talked publicly about aging — and the changing waves of activism she's been through. In the documentary American Revolutionary, which was about Boggs' life, she acknowledged that she was dying, and said that living longer than everybody else made for a lonely life. But she remained optimistic.
"To me that's not a terrible thing. ... I see this as a period of transition that I can make a transition by the things that I choose to engage in," she said. "I don't know what the next American revolution is going to be like, but we might be able to imagine it if your imagination were rich enough."
WATCH: 'The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs' documentary for free!
(Click on the link above)
Detroit Free Press
June 27, 2015
With famed Detroit social activist Grace Lee Boggs celebrating her 100th birthday this weekend, the Free Press is offering a special way to commemorate her remarkable life.
The award-winning documentary "American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs" will be viewable for free today through midnight Sunday at freep.com. The feature-length movie played Freep Film Festival in 2014, and won awards at many festivals across the country. It later received a prestigious Peabody Award in connection with its national PBS broadcast on the show "POV."
Related: 100th birthday for noted Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs
It tells the story of Chinese American and Detroit icon who has spent 70-some years as a writer, activist and philosopher with an eye on social justice and change. The portrait by filmmaker Grace Lee (who is not related) finds Grace Lee Boggs at the forefront of major movements of the past century, including labor and civil rights in the African-American and Asian-American communities along with feminism and environmental issues. The movie puts her in the context of history as she grows and adapts along with the Motor City that she still calls home.
The film's DVD is available for purchase through the movie's website, and includes a number of bonus features, including extended conversations with Grace Lee Boggs. It is also available for educational use via Good Docs.
The Panopticon Review's photo.
Exclusive Interview: Grace Lee (Director, “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs”)
May 14, 2015
About two weeks ago, I was able to watch a free screening of American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, and I was introduced to a woman whom I’d heard about thanks to social media, but has never really understood the impact of her social work. During that same week, I was able to talk to the director of the film, also named Grace Lee.
In the interview below, Lee and I discuss the film’s newest accolade—a Peabody Award—and how Lee came to find what she didn’t she didn’t know she was looking for Boggs. We also discussed the hot issue at the time (and technically still is a hot issue despite it not being featured in the news), the unrest in Baltimore triggered over the police-involved death of Freddie Gray.
American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs is currently available for free viewing on PBS until May 24. Definitely check it out for yourself. How does it feel to get a Peabody Award?
It feels amazing! It’s an incredible honor and it’s really exciting. I didn’t even know it had been submitted; it had been submitted through POV. It’s a really nice surprise. To me, it just means that more people will be able to learn about this incredible story of Grace Lee Boggs and everybody involved in 100 years of social movement.
One thing that I realized as I was watching it is that in history books, I learned about Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and the like, but I’d never learned about people like Grace Lee Boggs. What do you think about the probable lack of awareness about who she is and what she’s done?
I think part of the reason is because Grace, like a lot of grassroots activists, aren’t out in the spotlight. There are so many people doing incredible community work and just staying part of the community…Even in the film, there are no images [of Boggs]. I used what I could from Grace’s collection, but they weren’t out on the street [self-promoting]. I think they were just out there doing the work.
I think what attracted me to her story was exactly the same reason [as you]—why hadn’t I heard of this woman? I just couldn’t believe she existed and that this story hadn’t been told. …Learning about her, I couldn’t believe nobody had [told her story] before. I just became obsessed with asking the questions and figuring out how the daughter of immigrants became part of the black community and part of this rich movement in Detroit. I think there are a lot of stories that we never hear about, and to tell a story like Grace Lee Boggs’, to me is a way to look at others’, like who is the Grace Lee Boggs in the New York community that we never hear about, or even in your family or down the street?
In the documentary, you say that you didn’t know you were looking for someone like Grace until you met her. What would you say you were looking for?
I’m interested in community work and I’m interested in human rights social movements, but I never really knew of Asian-American women who were doing that. We don’t hear those kind of stories…In general, there are no stories [like this] that we learn about in history books. First of all, [we] don’t even learn about women in movements. I…was a history major, I sort of sought out [these stories] myself, but to actually find somebody who is in her 80s and very much a part of these movements is an incredible discovery and affirmation that there are people who think this way, who I can relate to and want to learn from and are a part of American history. She’s an American revolutionary, not an Asian-American revolutionary. She’s part of looking at American history in a new way.
One of the themes of the documentary, almost like a refrain, is Grace saying in so many words that thinking outside the box leads to change. Do you think people a lot of that nowadays? Since there is a new wave of activists, do you think that they embody this “thinking outside the box” ideology?
Well, I know in one part, Grace has that one quote in the film where she thinks the radical movement has overestimated the role of activism and underestimated the role of reflection, and I think she embodied the need for both. She’s this hardcore intellectual and philosopher, and she could use those ideas because she was so grounded in community and community work. That combination is what I think could potentially be most powerful because it’s not off in a ivory tower theorizing about social change or somebody just protesting or getting angry or somebody just doing marches without reflecting on what it all means and where it’s all going.
I think there are definitely people doing that [introspection] right now. You see it in a lot of the movements happening right now as we speak. It’s exciting. I don’t think everybody’s there, but I think if you do it long enough [you can]. That’s one reason why I made this film; I was interested in these questions about how do you sustain a life of activism, how do you keep from getting burned out? With all of this chaos in the world, how do you make sense of it all?
Grace also said in the film, “You don’t choose the times you live in, but you choose how you want to think.” What do you think about that statement in relation to what we’ve been talking about?
It goes back to “I didn’t know I was looking for Grace until I found her.” As someone…who grew up in the ’80s, I didn’t know how to make sense of all of the conservatism around me and even though it’s happening now, you don’t have to be the dominant ideology or political system.
I think there are ways people resist and there are people like Grace who are constantly reflecting and moving forward. If you don’t have that within yourself, you’re just going to get stuck. While making the film, I really took that to heart because of many things that are happening in the world. Just having some kind of framework to think about history, current events, and all the chaos—war, poverty, racism, everything around us. How do you think about that without just getting depressed all the time, you know? There’s just got to be something beyond.
I just appreciated watching this woman and how she struggled through it throughout her lifetime, starting with Hegel in college to Marx, to the ideas of King and Malcolm X and going back to King, going through the rebellion in Detroit, getting older. It was just sort of like a blueprint. She’s not the answer to everything, but it’s a really great way to get in touch with someone who has been through it and has been thinking deeply and acting for so many years. We’re all going to make our own paths in a different way…and we have to make our own way from where we are at this moment… She…learned from history but she didn’t get stuck in it.
She’s been at the forefront of people helping Detroit get back on track and now there’s a school named after her and her husband James. What do you think about her capacity to still be affect change in Detroit?
Her legacy is incredible. The people who started the Boggs School, [like] Julia Putnam, whose in the film, she was 16 years old and was the first volunteer at Detroit Summer because she was looking for a venue or opportunity to think about Detroit in a different way. I think Grace and James and their colleagues put it out there that there is a different way to think about Detroit [and] it really made an impact on her.
Grace herself didn’t have any biological children, but I feel she has an incredible legacy of people, sort of her philosophical children, who are doing incredible things in Detroit and are committed to the city in the same way she is. For me to see that as an outsider is incredibly moving and forced me to think about…where I live in a different way. I needed to go to Detroit all these years to think about how I live and where I live in Los Angeles and my own commitment to the city that I live in.
Another thing in the documentary that struck me as interesting is that Grace would always insist on conversation. What do you think about the power of conversation and Grace’s relationship to conversing with people?
It seems almost obvious that conversation can lead to these things, but in a way, it’s not obvious because we always think about these big movements, protests and marches and things like that in terms of changing policy and government. But…the conversation is the building block of creating a movement, creating the next thing.
To see that become more in the forefront as she’s gotten older because that’s what she can do still, it’s really inspiring because you don’t need a whole lot to start a conversation. You just have to have the willingness to engage civilly with another person who may not share the same ideas as you and see where you can go from there. If you can agree, to have a civil conversation, I think you can move forward on many levels.
It started with a conversation that I made this film. I didn’t even know what I was going to do when I first started out, when I first met her. I just knew that there [were] these very generous invitations to come to Detroit and see what she was doing. I had to percolate on what the film actually was for many years, but it all started with simple conversation.
In all of your conversations with her, was there anything that stuck out to you or something you added to your own life?
There are so many things. I really think it’s just her example of really always seeing an opportunity of meeting another person and exchanging ideas as an opportunity to learn. Never getting stuck of being defeated.
There are so many great quotes from Grace; it was so difficult to make this film because of money or there wasn’t enough footage, resources, whatever. There was always a Grace Lee Boggs quote that kept us going. [For instance], I [didn’t] know whether to cut [a] section or if it belongs in the film, and we would think about her saying something like, “You make your path by walking; you just have to do it and just start going forward.” I think that comes from her philosophy, her Hegelian philosophy, seeing through the negative and trying to come to something new. That really applied to filmmaking, which can be a really difficult haul. I think we got a lot of encouragement from those words as we were editing.
My last question, I have to set up with the fact that right now I’m watching what’s happening in the news with Baltimore that directly goes back to what Grace was speaking to in the film and what she’s dealt with in other parts of the country, especially when she says that there are black cities that are not run by black people, which seems to be the common denominator with how these blow-ups happen. With all that’s going on, what do you think Grace’s message would be to people trying to make sense of this?
I think she says it in the film when she’s talking about Detroit with Bill Moyers about that awful riot, and she says, “We called it the rebellion.” And what they’re pointing out is that it’s an outburst of pain and anger and standing up against this system that’s…created these riots. I think she definitely, herself, is of the non-violent persuasion, but not without belittling or not understanding why people are so upset and angry…
The thing about what’s happening now…that’s why…Grace’s perspective is so deep. It just keeps happening over and over again. 1967 Detroit, 1968 Baltimore, Newark, all those places. It’s just kind of [like] “I’ve seen this before.” I recently rewatched American Revolutionary, I think it was right after Ferguson, and I was like, “Oh my God, these images!” It’s just upsetting…I appreciate Grace and her perspective, given that history just seems to keep repeating itself, and just digging into the ideas and really struggling with how do we move on beyond this. If you don’t have that deep reflection and struggle to think about it, it’ll just keep happening over and over again, reaction upon reaction.
Cover photo: Grace Lee. Interior photos: Grace Lee Boggs, Boggs with Lee. Photo credit: Quyen Tran
Explore the books written by American Revolutionary's Grace Lee Boggs — handpicked by Boggs herself — and the texts that inspired and shaped her philosophy and activism.
The Phenomenology of Mind by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
1807GWF Hegel's Phänomenologie des Geistes, originally published in German in 1807, is one of Boggs's favorite works — though even she admits struggling to understand the writing.
"Often I would read and reread passages as if I were listening to a piece of music or poetry, unable to understand what was being said but feeling my humanity expanding and stretching as a I read."
— Grace Lee Boggs, 1998
The 1844 Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts by Karl Marx
In 1947, the Johnson-Forest Tendency, a study group within the leftist Workers Party comprised of Boggs, C.L.R. James ("Johnson") & Raya Dunayevskaya ("Forest"), published the first English translation of this Marx text in the United States.
Boggs translated three of the essays from their original German to English.
Science and the Modern World by Alfred North WhiteheadWhile attending Bryn Mawr College in the 1930s, Boggs discovered Science and the Modern World.
"I still read and recommend it for its priceless exposure of 'the fallacy of misplaced concreteness' or the tendency of intellectuals to become so preoccupied with the abstractions necessary for scientific thinking that they lose sight of concrete reality, which is always many-sided."
— Grace Lee Boggs, 1998
The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time by Karl Polanyi
Political economist Karl Polyani's The Great Transformation criticized the self-regulating market, which he wrote became a key to American society after the Industrial Revolution.
In 1988, Concordia University established the Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy, a research center dedicated to his legacy and the book, published in 1944, remains a top-seller in the Public Policy category on Amazon.com.
Notes on Dialectics by C.L.R. James
Despite their ideological and personal break in 1962, Boggs's working relationship with C.L.R. James remains one of the most important in her early years as an activist and philosopher.
Boggs worked closely with James on Notes on Dialectics, which James has said was his most important work.
The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Workers Notebook by James BoggsWhen this book was published in 1963, actor, director, poet and activist Ossie Davis (No Way Out, Do the Right Thing) sent a copy to every member of Congress. It has since been published in French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese.
Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered by EF Schumacher
Published during the 1970s energy crisis, Small Is Beautiful was considered a radical critique of mass production and consumerism. But by 2014, Schumacher's ideas on environmentalism and sustainability had become mainstream.
"'Small is beautiful' is an idea that keeps reappearing — the latest incarnations are farmers' markets, and local cafes baking homemade cup cakes — because it incorporates such a fundamental insight into the human experience of modernity. We yearn for economic systems within our control, within our comprehension and that once again provide space for human interaction — and yet we are constantly overwhelmed by finding ourselves trapped into vast global economic systems that are corrupting and corrupt."
— journalist Madeleine Bunting in The Guardian
Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century by Grace Lee Boggs and James BoggsBoggs and her husband, James Boggs, wrote this book together. Its first part breaks down lessons, circumstances and key strategies from four 20th-century revolutions — Russian, Chinese, Guinea-Bissauan and Vietnamese. Its second part focuses on class structure of American society and considers what an American Revolution might look like.
The latest edition brings the book into the 21st century with a foreword from Boggs about modern community organizing in Detroit.
The Modern World-System by Immanuel Wallerstein
Boggs sees Wallerstein's multi-volume collection of books as essential reading for anyone trying to answer the question, "What time is it on the clock of the world?" And it's a question she has challenged everyone to consider.
Conversations in Maine by Grace Lee Boggs, James Boggs, Freddy and Lyman Paine
"As we sat here, against the background of the ocean, of the trees, we just began talking." — Grace Lee Boggs.
Conversations in Maine explores the obstacles facing those attempting to achieve social transformation.
Watch Boggs discuss Conversations in Maine »
The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler
Toffler's book broke down society into three "waves" of change — the agricultural age, the industrial age and the information age, which was just beginning at the time of publication, in 1980.
Dreaming the Dark by StarhawkBoggs often quotes Dreaming the Dark's appendix, according to fellow activist Shea Howell, and has shared copies of it "far and wide."
Starhawk organized the first fundraiser for the Detroit youth community group Detroit Summer, which began in 1992.
Living for Change by Grace Lee Boggs
Boggs's autobiography begins in the room above her father's Chinese-American restaurant in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, where she was born in 1915.
The book was translated into Chinese and published in China in 2014.
Leadership and the New Science by Margaret J. Wheatley
This book applies lessons from quantum physics, chaos theory and molecular biology to managing organizations.
The Next American Revolution by Grace Lee Boggs
"How do you make a new beginning? And why is this such a wonderful time on the clock of the universe when we're challenged and we find both necessary and possible to create the world anew?"
— Grace Lee Boggs, American Revolutionary
In her most recent book, Boggs explores where we stand right now and where we can go from here.
Find out more about the POV documentary American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.
Saturday, June 27, 2015
Legendary Detroit Activist Grace Lee Boggs Turns 100; Watch Never-Before-Aired Interview
See all of our interviews with Boggs.
Transcript:AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now!, Grace Lee Boggs.
GRACE LEE BOGGS: It’s wonderful to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: Where were you born?
GRACE LEE BOGGS: I was born above my father’s Chinese restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, and my folks had come over from China. And I think I first understood the changes that were necessary in this world, because the waiters in the restaurant, when I cried, used to say, "Leave her on the hillside to die. She’s only a girl baby." I think they said it somewhat as a joke, maybe not, but it made me I understand that being born female in this world was very different from being born male.
AMY GOODMAN: The year you were born?
GRACE LEE BOGGS: 1915, during World War I. It’s unbelievable, when I think—
AMY GOODMAN: How did the war affect your family?
GRACE LEE BOGGS: Well, I remember a picture that appeared on the front page of the Providence newspaper, the daily, of our family. I was on my father’s lap. They solicited you. They sold Liberty Bonds during that time. And to have a Chinese-American family buying Liberty Bonds was newsworthy. So that’s what I recall from World War I.
AMY GOODMAN: When did you leave Rhode Island?
GRACE LEE BOGGS: In 1924, my father had restaurants. He had a restaurant in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in Boston, in Providence. And in each one of these, one of my siblings was born. And then, in 1924, he came to New York and opened a restaurant at 49th Street and Broadway, and we moved to New York in 1924.
Grace Lee Boggs' 100th birthday celebrated in Detroit
by Niraj Warikoo,
June 27, 1915
Detroit Free Press
Hundreds gathered Friday night at the Charles H. Wright African-American Museum in Detroit for the 100th birthday party of Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs, who turns 100 today.
A diverse range of labor leaders, community activists, and elderly Marxists gathered to honor a woman who has been part of Detroit's leftist movements since the 1950s, when she moved to Detroit.
"Are you ready for revolution? " Ron Scott, head of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, asked the packed crowd.
"Amen!" they replied.
Boggs, who has become weakened over the past year, was unable to make the party, which included tributes, cake, and dancing. In front was a large banner with her photo, with a quote from her underneath: "I don't know what the Next American Revolution is going to be like, but we might be able to imagine it, if your imagination were rich enough."
DETROIT FREE PRESS
WATCH: 'The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs' for free
The crowd was racially diverse, reflecting the wide range of people that Boggs has touched.
Today, her supporters will take part in a march for peace in Detroit along with other groups.
Boggs is known as a fierce critic of capitalism, and has worked with a range of Marxist and black power leaders throughout her life, including Malcolm X. The FBI kept a file on her and her late husband, Jimmy Boggs.
DETROIT FREE PRESS
100th birthday for noted Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs
But in recent years, she has emphasized more the importance of internal changes and using non-violence to transform how humans interact with each other. She later agreed with Martin Luther King Jr.'s criticism of violent protest movements. In 1995, she helped open a Detroit center in her name and her husband's name, the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership, that educated youth and encouraged urban gardening as a way to heal a city ravaged by deindustrialization and crime.
"Transform yourself" was Boggs' message, Scott, a former Black Panther leader who has known Boggs for almost 50 years, told the crowd Friday. "I want you to look internally."
Lila Cabbil, a Detroit activist, echoed those views, telling the audience that Boggs said to "first change yourself and take on a revolutionary spirit."
"Happy birthday, Grace."
Cindy Estrada, a vice-president with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union who heads their General Motors (GM) division, also spoke at the event.
Estrada met with Boggs after she had become a UAW vice-president, and admits that at first she felt "very uncomfortable" meeting Boggs because she was such a strong critic of corporations and some mainstream unions.
Ron Scott, head of the Detroit Coalition Against PoliceBuy Photo
Ron Scott, head of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, speaks to hundreds at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History in Detroit, for Grace Lee Boggs' 100th birthday party on June 26. (Photo: Niraj Warikoo/Detroit Free Press)
But Boggs "was so excited" for her, Estrada recalled of their meeting. "She gave me an enormous amount of confidence."
Boggs stressed the "responsibility I had to the community" and that getting good union contracts should not be the only focus. "To grow our souls" was also important, Estrada said Boggs told her.
After getting her PhD in philosophy, Boggs became a tenant organizer in Chicago and moved to Detroit in the early 1950s. She translated some of Karl Marx's writings and debated with various Marxist intellectuals.
Later, she became active in black power movements, working with Malcolm X and others, helping advise them."Struggle is essential to who she is," said Stephen Ward, who teaches at the University of Michigan. "We are building on her legacy."
Julia Putnam, co-founder and principal of a Detroit charter school named after Boggs, the James and Grace Lee Boggs School, said that Boggs has encouraged her personally. She said Boggs stressed the importance of creating an "inclusive and healthy and functioning" society.
In the 1990s, Boggs worked with younger Asian-American activists, reconnecting with her roots as the daughter of Chinese immigrants. State Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), who used to work with Boggs at her center and Theresa Tran, executive director of Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote-Michigan, were among the Asian-American advocates who attended the birthday.
Roland Hwang, an Asian-American advocate who is an attorney with the Michigan Attorney General's office, also attended, noting that the diversity of the event was a testament to Boggs' work.
"It was inspiring to see such a multi-racial, multi-ethnic crowd," Hwang said. "I wish her well."
Invincible, a Detroit activist and rapper, said Boggs told her last year: "This is a great time to be alive. We are in the midst of a spiritual uprising."
At 10 a.m. Saturday, The Boggs Center will participate in "Silence the Violence March" organized by Church of the Messiah 231 E. Grand Blvd., Detroit
Contact Niraj Warikoo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo
American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs #americanrevolutionary
PBS Premiere: June 30, 2014
Grace Lee Boggs, 98, is a Chinese American philosopher, writer and activist in Detroit with a thick FBI file and a surprising vision of what an American revolution can be. Rooted in 75 years of the labor, civil rights and Black Power movements, she continually challenges a new generation to throw off old assumptions, think creatively and redefine revolution for our times.
Right at the start of American Revolutionary, director Grace Lee makes clear that she isn’t related to Grace Lee Boggs. She met the older woman through her earlier documentary, The Grace Lee Project, about the shared name of many Asian American women and the stereotypes associated with it. Philosopher, activist and author Grace Lee Boggs, then in her vigorous 80s and very much a part of Detroit’s social fabric, began applying a spirited analysis to the film project itself. She habitually turned the tables on the filmmaker with a grandmotherly smile that belied her firm resolve, probing the younger woman's ideas and suggesting she consider things more deeply. Thus began a series of conversations over the next decade and beyond.
Credit: Quyen Tran
Director Grace Lee always knew she’d make a film about the woman with a radical Marxist past, intimidating intellectual achievements and enduring engagement in the issues — a sprightly activist who can gaze at a crumbling relic of a once-thriving auto plant and say, "I feel so sorry for people who are not living in Detroit."
In some ways, the radicalization of Grace Lee Boggs typifies an experience many people shared during America’s turbulent 20th century. Yet she cut an extraordinary path through decades of struggle. As Angela Davis, an icon of the 1960s Black Power movement, puts it, "Grace has made more contributions to the black struggle than most black people have." Actor Danny Glover and numerous Detroit comrades, plus archival footage featuring Bill Moyers, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and Boggs’ late husband and fellow radical, James Boggs, all testify to Boggs’ highly unusual position.
How a smart, determined, idealistic Chinese American woman became a civil rights movement fixture from its earliest post-war days and, later, a spokesperson for Black Power (often the only non-black — and only woman — in a roomful of unapologetic activists planning for a revolution they believed inevitable) is a riveting and revealing tale.
American Revolutionary shows that Boggs got in on the action — and the action got going — long before the turbulent 1960s. As she reminds a group of students, “I got my Ph.D. in 1940. Just imagine that.” Born in 1915 in Providence, R.I. to Chinese immigrants who moved to New York and prospered in the restaurant trade — Chin Lee’s opened in Manhattan in 1924 — she grew up relatively privileged and excelled at the nearly all-white Bryn Mawr and Barnard Colleges.
Then two things happened. First, she read the works of German philosopher Hegel, the founder of "dialectical thinking" whose work influenced Marxism, which steered her into philosophy and a more critical stance toward society. Then, after finishing school with doctorate in hand, she found herself blocked by "We don’t hire Orientals" signs. So she took a train to Chicago, where she found a job at the University of Chicago’s philosophy library and an apartment on the South Side and began organizing her new neighborhood against rat-infested housing.
The rest is a people's history of the American left. American Revolutionary deftly follows Boggs' path from her first community campaign — as a tenants’ rights organizer — through the 1941 March on Washington movement, which demanded jobs for African Americans in defense plants; her mentorship under the West Indian Marxist writer and theorist C.L.R. James; her move to Detroit; her 1953 marriage to Alabama-born James Boggs (auto worker and author of The American Revolution: Pages From a Negro Worker’s Notebook); her split with orthodox Marxism in favor of Black revolution; her preference for the ideas of Malcolm X over those of Martin Luther King, Jr.; and her emergence as a spokesperson for Black Power.
Along the way, she studied, wrote influential books, engaged in protest and, together with her husband (who died in 1993), discovered increasing tolerance for what they saw as revolutionary violence in the face of violent repression. Then Detroit exploded in the 1967 riots, which, as American Revolutionary reveals, were watershed events for Boggs. Indeed, she instructed PBS's Bill Moyers to call them "a rebellion." After a short period of community solidarity, disorder and lawlessness took over the streets. Rebellion did not become revolution. Boggs and her husband began to reexamine their ideas in the light of experience. Though there are many who would argue with her, and she'd be ready for the argument, Boggs has maintained her dedication to humanist and even radical ideals, while tempering her understanding of revolution as an evolutionary process.
Grace Lee Boggs can feel hopeful about Detroit not despite the city's unstable financial and social condition but because of it. She retains the radical's abiding faith that a new way of living can dawn. "We are in a time of great hope and great danger," she tells Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman. Yet, as American Revolutionary chronicles, this faith has also been tempered by mistakes, lost battles, unintended consequences, age itself and the sheer evolutionary force of social change. "It's hard when you’re young to understand how reality is constantly changing because it hasn't changed that much during your lifetime," says Boggs. Still, channeling Hegel, she challenges people to "not get stuck in old ideas. Keep recognizing that reality is changing and that your ideas have to change."
Boggs’ approach is radical in its simplicity and clarity: Revolution is not an act of aggression or merely a protest. Revolution, Boggs says, "is about something deeper within the human experience — the ability to transform oneself and transform the world."
"From the moment I met Grace Lee Boggs in 2000, I knew I would have to make a longer film just about her," says director Grace Lee. "Over the years, I would return to Detroit, hang out and watch her hold everyone from journalists to renowned activists to high school students in her thrall. I recognized myself in all of them — eager to connect with someone who seemed to embody history itself.
"This is not an issue film, nor is it about a celebrity or an urgent injustice that rallies you to take action," she continues. "It’s about an elderly woman who spends most of her days sitting in her living room thinking and hatching ideas about the next American revolution. But if you catch wind of some of those ideas, they just might change the world."
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Friday, October 10, 2014
"I Am Coming to the End of a Long Journey": Legendary Detroit Activist Grace Lee Boggs in Hospice
As we broadcast from Detroit, Michigan, we get an update on Grace Lee Boggs, the 99-year-old activist, author and philosopher based in Detroit. She is considered a legendary figure in the struggle for justice in America. Throughout her life, Boggs has participated in all of the 20th century’s major social movements — for civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and has inspired generations of local activists. In 1994, she co-founded Detroit Summer, "a multi-racial, inter-generational collective" that functions as a training ground for activists, attracting young people across the country each year. Boggs has been in hospice care at her Detroit home, largely bedridden after taking a bad fall last month. She recently posted a statement on her website that read in part, "I am coming to the end of a long journey — a journey that began over 70 years ago at the beginning of World War II." We broadcast an excerpt from our 2011 interview with Boggs, and speak with her longtime friend, Alice Jennings, who is one of two people in charge of her care.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to, finally, switch gears a bit and ask you about Grace Lee Boggs.
ALICE JENNINGS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: She stated recently on her Facebook page, "I am coming to the end of a long journey—a journey that began over 70 years ago at the beginning of World War II." Grace is now 99 years old. She is the well-known activist, author, philosopher, based in Detroit. And as she has dealt in her life with grace, I think you could say, like her first name—
ALICE JENNINGS: Mm-hmm, with much grace, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —she is talking about transitioning now.
ALICE JENNINGS: Yes, and with the same bravery that she stood and marched in front of drug houses and organized labor movements. And it’s very difficult for us who are very close to her, but she’s taken it on.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re in charge of her care?
ALICE JENNINGS: I am one of the two people. Shea Howell is also her other trustee. And we’re just trying to love her and make her as comfortable as we can. But she’s still saying, "What time is it on the clock of the world?" And we’re accountable to make sure we continue the type of work she and James Boggs were known for.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a clip of Grace Lee Boggs talking about Detroit.
GRACE LEE BOGGS: I moved from New York, where I had lived a good deal of my life and where I went to school, to Detroit, because I thought that the working class in Detroit was going to rise up and restore, reconstruct the city. And I arrived at a time when the population was beginning to decline, when the working class was shrinking. And I had to begin learning from what was taking place. And that learning process is something that a lot of people are undergoing.
And I think it’s very difficult for someone who doesn’t live in Detroit to say you can look at a vacant lot and, instead of seeing devastation, see hope, see the opportunity to grow your own food, see an opportunity to give young people a sense of process, that’s very difficult in the city, that the vacant lot represents the possibilities for a cultural revolution. It’s amazing how few Americans understand that, even though I think filmmakers and writers are coming to the city and trying to spread the word.
AMY GOODMAN: Grace Lee Boggs took a fall last month, and she is in hospice care at home. Rarely do you talk about someone as directly saying they’re dying, but Grace is acknowledging this.
ALICE JENNINGS: She is, and, in the face of it, trying to let us know what it’s going on and what it’s like. And we’re—again, we’re just there with her and loving her up.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Alice Jennings, I want to thank you for being with us, lead attorney for Detroit residents fighting against the city’s controversial campaign to turn water service off for unpaid accounts, also a board member of the James and Grace Lee Boggs School and a close friend of Grace Lee Boggs.
That does it for the show. I’ll be speaking at the Lensic theater in Santa Fe, New Mexico, tonight. I’m Amy Goodman, broadcasting from Detroit
Grace Lee Boggs, Activist And American Revolutionary, Turns 100
American Revolutionary: Grace Lee Boggs at POV
- Aired: 06/30/2014
A Conversation Between Grace Lee Boggs and Angela Davis
Friday, March 2, 2012
4:00pm to 6:00pm
Admission free; open to the general public
The opening ceremony begins at 4pm, with filmmaker Grace Lee screening a portion of “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs,” a documentary in progress.
In this historic event, Ms. Boggs and Ms. Davis will discuss their motivation for continuing their work and activism, presenting their ideas of social justice, healing and moving activism beyond the academy.
Grace Lee Boggs is an activist, writer, and speaker whose seven decades of political involvement encompass the major U.S. social movements of the past hundred years. She is the author of The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century and Living For Change: An Autobiography. A daughter of Chinese immigrants, Boggs received her B.A. from Barnard College (1935) and her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Bryn Mawr College (1940). She developed a twenty-year political relationship with the black Marxist, C.L.R. James, followed by extensive Civil Rights and Black Power Movement activism in Detroit in partnership with husband and black autoworker, James Boggs (1919-93). She continues her work with the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center for Nurturing Community Leadership in Detroit, training the next generation of leaders to create productive, sustainable, ecologically responsible and just communities.
Angela Davis is an internationally renowned activist, scholar, author and educator. She is author of eight books, which include Abolition Democracy: Beyond Prisons, Torture, and Empire; Women, Race, and Class; and Angela Davis, An Autobiography. Davis has remained dedicated to the struggle for social justice and equality since the beginning of her activism in the 1970s. In recent years a persistent theme of her work has been the range of social problems associated with incarceration and the generalized criminalization of those communities that are most affected by poverty and racial discrimination. She is a retired professor in the department of the History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz and has lectured in many universities throughout the world.
This event is hosted by the Women of Color Initiative at the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly, the Ethnic Studies Department at UC Berkeley, the Center for Race and Gender, and is held in conjunction with the 27th Annual Empowering Women of Color Conference. Admission is free and open to the general public.
For more info: http://ewocc.wordpress.com/grace-lee-boggs-and-angela-davis/
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/300381873344575/
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