Grace Lee Boggs

By Rene Ayala

Grace Lee Boggs (1915-2015) was a Chinese-American Activist who was prominent in the social movements in Detroit. Boggs was a prominent member of the Black Power, which is credits as giving rise to the Asian American movement. Boggs also believed that activist should go beyond protest organizing and argued for visionary organizing that changes the vision of the movement as it progresses. Her views on activism have been important in understanding how social movements have been organized and how to make these movements successful.

Boggs believed in racial solidarity  in activism in order to achive greater goals. Boggs was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1915, She went on to get a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Bryn Mawr, which is where she got introduced to the radical left. For years she studied Hegel and Marx, and believed that solidarity in challenging oppressive economic structures is what was needed to address racial inequality in America. It was this need for solidarity that got Boggs acquainted with black radicals and activist, just like her husband, James Boggs. She met James in Detroit, where she moved to work on the radical newspaper Correspondence. Her interracial activism is based on the idea that the only way to have a proletarian democracy is by the liberation of black people. Boggs used what she learned from Black Power movements in the fight for Asian Americans. She stated the concept of Asian American and Asian American studies was born from the “struggles of the 1960’s of black power activists and Vietnamese people” (Brown-Foster 2015) which lead other Asian American populations to fight against the model minority and fight for their rights as well.

When Boggs was not participating in social activism, she was theorizing on how social change is made. Boggs was more concerned with the ability of an individual to change his or her own world as opposed to trying to transform an entire system. She believed that a radical shift in people’s consciousness and beliefs was necessary for a revolution to be successful. There needed to be a “two-sided transformation” (Brown-Foster 2015). There needed to be a transformation of those oppressed who “absorbed the values of their oppressors” (Brown-Foster 2015). Boggs argued that activists need to think of more than just protesting, that they need to have a vision for a new world. She recognized that this was a hard task in a world where one “cannot imagine an alternative” (Brown-Foster 2015) , but insisted activists try anyway. Boggs also believed in changing the focus of a movement as it progressed, since certain elements become less important over time and we can’t expect that “what built the movement in the past will build it in the present or future” (Brown-Foster 2015). Boggs approaches to revolution inspired generations of activist, like Tawana Honeycomb Petty who says Boggs challenges community activists to “struggle back and forth” (Chow 2015) with each other as opposed to simply following an assumed general consensus.

After her husband’s death, Boggs become more involved with the Detroit activist community. She wrote for Michigan Citizen and started the James and Grace Lee Boggs school that interweaves Detroit and its issues into the school’s curriculum. Boggs was active until her passing last year. Boggs not only presented the importance of interracial solidarity when it came to creating the Asian American movement, she also asks activists to question what they were doing and to have a vision for the future they want to achieve. She believed that having this vision, as well as working to transform oneself were the prerequisites necessary for a successful revolution.

 

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Work Cited:

[1] Chow, Kat. “Grace Lee Boggs, Activist And American Revolutionary, Turns 100.” NPR. June 27, 2015. Accessed September 18, 2016. http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/06/27/417175523/grace-lee-boggs-activist-and-american-revolutionary-turns-100.

 

[2] Petkov, Aaron. “Grace Lee Boggs (1915–2015).” Jacobin Grace Lee Boggs 19152015 Comments. October 16, 2015. Accessed September 18, 2016. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/10/grace-lee-boggs-obituary-detroit-civil-rights-socialism/.

[3] Brown-Foster, Walton. “Grace Lee Boggs.” Chinese America: History & Perspectives (January 2015): 61-67. America: History and Life with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed September 18, 2016).

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