[Marxism] Grace Lee Boggs, Advocate for Many Causes for 7 Decades, Dies at 100

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
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 
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 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 
elementary school.

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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