1915 : Grace Lee Boggs Born, Author, Human Rights Advocate, Philosopher

June 27, 2024 all-day

Born to Chinese immigrants, Ms. Boggs was an author, activist, and philosopher who planted gardens on vacant lots, founded community organizations and political movements, marched against racism, lectured widely on human rights and wrote books on her evolving vision of a revolution in America.

Grace Lee was born above her father’s Chinese restaurant in Providence, R.I., on June 27, 1915. Her father, Chin Lee, later owned a popular restaurant near Times Square in Manhattan. Although illiterate in English, her mother, Yin Lan Lee, was a strong feminist role model.

Grace Lee grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens. A brilliant scholar, she enrolled at 16 at Barnard College, graduated in 1935 with a degree in philosophy, and in 1940 earned a doctorate from Bryn Mawr College.

Influenced by the German philosophers Kant and especially Hegel, a precursor of Marx, she resolved to devote her life to change in a nation of inequalities and discrimination against minorities and women. In 1941, discouraged about prospects for a college teaching position, she found a library job at the University of Chicago, and she was soon organizing protests against slum housing.

In 1953, she moved to Detroit and married James Boggs, a black autoworker, writer and radical activist. The city, with its large black population, racial inequalities and auto industry in its postwar heyday, seemed poised for changes, and the couple focused on African-Americans, women and young people as vanguards of a social movement.

For years they also identified closely with Black Power advocates across the country. Malcolm X stayed with them on visits to Detroit. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was said to have monitored their activities. When arson fires and rioting erupted in the city in 1967, Ms. Boggs described the violence as a rebellion against rising unemployment and police brutality.

“What we tried to do is explain that a rebellion is righteous, because it’s the protest of a people against injustice,” she told Mr. Moyers. But the violence, she said, also became “a turning point in my life, because until that time I had not made a distinction between a rebellion and revolution.”

Ms. Boggs eventually adopted Dr. King’s nonviolent strategies and in Detroit, which remained her base for the rest of her life, fostered Dr. King’s vision of “beloved communities,” striving for racial and economic justice through nonconfrontational methods. As Detroit’s economy and population declined sharply over the years, Ms. Boggs became a prominent symbol of resistance to the spreading blight.

She founded food cooperatives and community groups to support the elderly, organize unemployed workers and fight utility shut-offs. She devised tactics to combat crime, including protests outside known crack houses, and in columns for a local weekly newspaper, The Michigan Citizen, she promoted civic reforms.

In 1992, she co-founded Detroit Summer, a youth program that still draws volunteers from all over the country to repair homes, paint murals, organize music festivals and turn vacant lots into community gardens. In 2013 she opened the James and Grace Lee Boggs School, a charter elementary school.

Grace Lee Boggs wikipedia entry   (June 27, 1915 – October 5, 2015)

Robert D. McFadden, “Grace Lee Boggs, Human Rights Advocate for 7 Decades, Dies at 100“, New York Times, October 5, 2015.

American revolutionary [videorecording] : the evolution of Grace Lee Boggs / directed and produced by Grace Lee ; producers, Caroline Libresco, Austin Wilkin. [United States] : LeeLee Films, [2013]. DVD, 84 minutes. MSU Libary Kline Digital/Media Center (4 West) F574.D49 C52 2013 VideoDVD  Trailer

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