Grace Lee Boggs: the Social Activist, Philosopher and (R)evolutionary
Well-known and beloved social activist, Grace Lee Boggs, passed away in her Detroit house on October 5, 2015. At the age of 100, she left behind a lasting legacy – one that would take roughly seven decades to build.
Boggs was born in Providence, Rhode Island to Chinese immigrants in 1915, but came of age in New York, where she attended Barnard College at the age of 16. A true scholar at heart, she later went on to earn her doctorate in philosophy at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania – the first of many other titles she would soon come to hold.
Aside from a social activist, Boggs was also a philosopher, a feminist, an American author and above all else, a revolutionary in our eyes. Her inclination towards socialism was deeply rooted. Raised in a lower-middle-class household during the era of the Great Depression and the Great Recession, Boggs personally witnessed the depravity of segregation and social unrest that was characteristic of the time; racial and gender obstacles were also normalized; according to the New Yorker, no university at the time would hire a Chinese-American woman to teach political thought.
Perhaps it was through these circumstances that Boggs naturally gravitated towards socialism. She would later go on to participate in a variety of social causes, from the Black Power movement to her involvement in far-left Workers Party, the Socialist Workers Party and eventually, the Johnson-Forest Tendency (Johnsonites) sect, where she collaborated with Marxist theorists, C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya.
Because Detroit was also the core of Johnsonite organizing, Boggs moved there in 1953, and in that same year, she married James Boggs, a social activist and fellow-Johnsonite. Together, they would head off into their own trajectory until her husband’s death in 1993, giving way to the establishment of Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership, which uses Boggs’ home as its headquarters.
In later years, Boggs began to principally focus on the city of Detroit, where she championed various community-based projects like Detroit Summer, a multicultural and intergenerational youth program. Today, the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership also continues to serve as a hub for social activism.
Despite such notable accomplishments under her belt, Boggs – by her own words – did not consider herself to be “revolutionary” in any regard. Then perhaps “evolutionary” is a more appropriate descriptor. While it is true that immediate change is rarely feasible, her legacy will continue to inspire the possibility of reform for years to come.
As she stated, “…if you mobilize a mass action, you can change the world.”