Grace Lee Boggs
June 27, 1915
Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.
|Died||October 5, 2015 (aged 100)|
|Education||Columbia University (BA)|
Bryn Mawr College (MA, PhD)
|Movement||Johnson–Forest Tendency (1941–1951)|
(m. 1953; died 1993)
Grace Lee Boggs (June 27, 1915 – October 5, 2015) was an American author, social activist, philosopher, and feminist. She is known for her years of political collaboration with C. L. R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya in the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1960s she and James Boggs, her husband of some forty years, took their own political direction. By 1998, she had written four books, including an autobiography. In 2011, still active at the age of 95, she wrote a fifth book, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, with Scott Kurashige and published by the University of California Press. She is regarded as a key figure in the Asian American Movement.
Boggs was born on June 27, 1915, in Providence, Rhode Island, above her father's restaurant. Her Chinese given name was Yu Ping (玉平), meaning "Jade Peace." She was the daughter of Chin Lee (1870–1965) and his second wife, Yin Lan Ng, who would become an early feminist role model for Boggs. Both her parents were originally from Taishan, Guangdong in Qing dynasty China. Her father Chin Lee was born Chin Dong Goon (Chin being his family name). After he immigrated from China to the U.S. city of Seattle in 1911, he took on the name Chin Lee, and the family surname was initially Chin Lee before shortening to just Lee.
Lee's first wife was unable to give birth to sons and so he left her for a younger woman. Yin Lan was born into the Ng family who were so poor that her uncle sold Yin into slavery, but she escaped. That same uncle arranged the marriage of Boggs's parents. Her father migrated to the United States with his second wife, landing in Seattle, Washington, in 1911.
Boggs had five siblings: Katherine, Edward (b. 1920), Philip, Robert, and Harry (b. 1918).
On a scholarship, Boggs went on to study at Barnard College of Columbia University, where, through professor Paul Weiss, she says she was influenced by the writings of Kant and Hegel. She graduated in 1935, and then in 1940 received her Ph.D. in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College, where she wrote her dissertation on George Herbert Mead.
In 1953 Grace Lee Boggs married James Boggs, a prominent activist and organizer. They were married for 40 years until James Boggs' death in 1993. Together they "built a durable partnership that was at once marital, intellectual, and political. It was a genuine partnership of equals, remarkable not only for its unique pairing or for its longevity, but also for its capacity to continually generate theoretical reflection and modes of activist engagement."
Grace Lee Boggs and James Boggs contributed to the founding of the National Organization for an American Revolution (NOAR), which, among other things, published activist literature.
Facing significant barriers in the academic world in the 1940s, she took a low-paying job at the University of Chicago Philosophy Library. As a result of their activism on tenants' rights, she joined the far-left Workers Party, known for its Third Camp position regarding the Soviet Union, which it saw as bureaucratic collectivist. At this point, she began the trajectory that she would follow for the rest of her life: a focus on struggles in the African-American community.
She met C. L. R. James during a speaking engagement in Chicago and moved to New York. She met many activists and cultural figures such as author Richard Wright and dancer Katharine Dunham. She also translated into English many of the essays in Karl Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 for the first time. She soon joined the Johnson–Forest Tendency led by James, Raya Dunayevskaya and Lee. They focused more centrally on marginalized groups such as women, people of color and youth as well as breaking with the notion of the vanguard party. While originally operating as a tendency of the Workers Party, they briefly rejoined the Socialist Workers Party before leaving the Trotskyist left entirely. The Johnson–Forest Tendency also characterized the USSR as State Capitalist. She wrote for the Johnson–Forest Tendency under the party pseudonym Ria Stone. She married African-American auto worker and political activist James Boggs in 1953.
That same year she and James moved to Detroit, where they continued to focus on Civil Rights and Black Power Movement activism. As scholar Brian Doucet articulates in his interview conducted with Boggs in 2014, "Living in Detroit influenced the Boggs' thinking on the role of automation, capital flight, and racism." Boggs helped found the Detroit Asian Political Alliance in 1970.
When C. L. R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya split in the mid-1950s into Correspondence Publishing Committee led by James and News and Letters led by Dunayevskaya, Grace and James supported Correspondence Publishing Committee that James tried to advise while in exile in Britain. In 1962 the Boggses broke with James and continued Correspondence Publishing Committee along with Lyman Paine and Freddy Paine, while James' supporters, such as Martin Glaberman, continued on as a new if short-lived organization, Facing Reality. The ideas that formed the basis for the 1962 split can be seen as reflected in James Boggs's book, The American Revolution: Pages from a Black Worker's Notebook. Grace unsuccessfully attempted to convince Malcolm X to run for the United States Senate in 1964. In these years, Boggs wrote a number of books, including Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century with her husband and focused on community activism in Detroit where she became a widely known activist.
In 1979 Grace Lee Boggs and husband James Boggs contributed to the founding of National Organization for an American Revolution (NOAR).
In the introduction to an extensive interview, scholar Karín Aguilar-San Juan describes one aspect of Boggs' activism: "Although she believes that racial and gender inequality will always demand struggle, Grace remains adamant that civil- rights- based activism will not lead to the farreaching changes in society that a higher state of human evolution requires." She goes on to explain that Boggs' "political path" has been "guided by her study of global and historical change, hand- in- hand with daily participation in and observation of the struggles of people at the grassroots level." In this interview Boggs discusses her relationship to her Asian American heritage, her experience with the Black Power movement, and many other topics.
She founded Detroit Summer, a multicultural intergenerational youth program, in 1992 and was the recipient of numerous awards. Additionally, Boggs' home in Detroit also serves as headquarters for the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership. The Boggs Center was founded in the early 1990s by friends of Grace Lee and James Boggs and continues to be a hub for community-based projects, grassroots organizing, and social activism both locally and nationally.
Her autobiography, Living for Change, was published in 1998. As late as 2005, she continued to write a column for the Michigan Citizen newspaper, and her book The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century was published in 2011. Her life is the subject of the documentary film American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (2013), produced and directed by the American filmmaker Grace Lee. In 2014, The Social Justice Hub at The New School's newly opened University Center was named the Baldwin Rivera Boggs Center after activists James Baldwin, Sylvia Rivera, and Grace Lee Boggs. She participated in the Conference on Activism, Ethnic Studies, Diaspora and Beyond held at Northwestern University in 2005, which was later reprinted in CR: New Centennial Review. Her speech "On Revolution: A Conversation Between Grace Lee Boggs and Angela Davis" held on March 2, 2012, at the Pauley Ballroom, University of California, was excerpted in the journal Race, Poverty & the Environment.
After turning 100 in June 2015, Boggs died on October 5, 2015.
In 2013, The James and Grace Lee Boggs School was opened in Detroit, Michigan. The Boggs School teaches students from kindergarten to 8th grade, and among its core values are critical thinking, collaboration, and self-determination.
In 2014, The Social Justice Hub at The New School’s newly opened University Center was named the Baldwin Rivera Boggs Center after activists Boggs, James Baldwin, and Sylvia Rivera.
The dual biography In Love And Struggle: The Revolutionary Lives of James and Grace Lee Boggs, by Stephen M. Ward, was published in 2016.
Boggs was the subject of an FBI file that investigated the roles of the Black Panthers and Black Nationalist movements. When her files were released, it revealed comments speculating Boggs is "probably Afro-Chinese".
|Grace Lee Boggs interviewed on Democracy Now!, January 20, 2008|
|Grace Lee Boggs interviewed by Bill Moyers, June 15, 2007|
|Boggs on the Financial Meltdown and Social Change – video report by Democracy Now!|
|"The Only Way to Survive is By Taking Care of One Another" – video report by Democracy Now!|