[Marxism] Grace Lee Boggs, Advocate for Many Causes for 7 Decades, Dies at 100
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Mon Oct 5 16:51:47 MDT 2015
NY Times, Oct. 5 2015
Grace Lee Boggs, Advocate for Many Causes for 7 Decades, Dies at 100
By ROBERT D. McFADDEN
Grace Lee Boggs, one of the nation’s oldest human rights activists, who
waged a war of inspiration for civil rights, labor, feminism, the
environment and other causes for seven decades with an unflagging faith
that revolutionary justice was just around the corner, died on Monday at
her home in Detroit. She was 100.
Her death was confirmed by Alice Jennings, her friend and legal trustee.
Born to Chinese immigrants, Ms. Boggs was an author 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.
Her odyssey took her from the streets of Chicago as a tenant organizer
in the 1940s to arcane academic debates about the nature of communism,
from the confrontational tactics of Malcolm X and the Black Power
movement to the nonviolent strategies of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr., and finally to her own manifesto for change — based not on
political and economic upheavals but on community organizing and
resurgent moral values.
“I think that too much of our emphasis on struggle has simply been in
terms of confrontation and not enough recognition of how much spiritual
and moral force is involved in the people who are struggling,” Ms. Boggs
told Bill Moyers in a PBS interview in 2007. “We have not emphasized
sufficiently the cultural revolution that we have to make among
ourselves in order to force the government to do differently.”
Many of her ideas were explored in “American Revolutionary: The
Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs,” a widely praised documentary by Grace Lee
that was part of a film project about people who shared her name. It
premiered on PBS in 2014.
Early in her career, Ms. Boggs translated works by Karl Marx. She joined
and quit the Workers Party, the Socialist Workers Party and the
Trotskyite movement, and collaborated with the revolutionaries C. L. R.
James, Raya Dunayevskaya and others in tortuous dialectical analyses
that described the Soviet Union variously as “a degenerated workers’
state,” a “state capitalist” system and “autonomous Marxism.”
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 still 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
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 protest demonstrations
outside known crack houses, and in columns for a local weekly newspaper,
The Michigan Citizen, 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
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 surrounding black neighborhoods.
In 1945 she published her first book, “George Herbert Mead: Philosopher
of the Social Individual,” about the American scholar regarded as a
founder of social psychology.
Returning to New York, she immersed herself in radical politics, joined
socialist groups and wrote for leftist publications. But it was her
marriage to Mr. Boggs and her move to Detroit that transformed her
political philosophies into life as an activist.
Ms. Boggs and her husband, who died in 1993, had no children. No
immediate family members survive.
Her other books included “Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth
Century” (1974, with Mr. Boggs), “Women and the Movement to Build a New
America” (1977), “Living for Change: An Autobiography” (1998) and “The
Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First
Century” (2011, with Scott Kurashige).
In her last book, Ms. Boggs aligned herself with revolutionaries in the
spirit of Thoreau, Gandhi and Dr. King. “We are not subversives,” she
wrote. “We are struggling to change this country because we love it.”
Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.
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