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June 15, 2007

"The struggle we're dealing with these days, which, I think, is part of what the 60s represented, is how do we define our humanity?"

At 91, Grace Lee Boggs has been a part of almost every major movement in the United States in the last 75 years, including: Labor, Civil Rights, Black Power, Women's Rights and Environmental Justice.

Born in 1915 to Chinese immigrant parents, Boggs received her BA from Barnard College in 1935 and her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Bryn Mawr College in 1940. In the 1950's she worked with West Indian Marxist C.L.R. James, before marrying African American activist, James Boggs, and moving to Detroit in 1953, where she's lived for 54 years.

One of her earliest inspirations was A. Philip Randolph, an African-American labor leader who in 1941 fought successfully for equal hiring practices in defense plants as the United States geared up for WWII. "When I saw what a movement could do I said, 'Boy that's what I wanna do with my life,'" explains Boggs in her interview with Bill Moyers.

In the 1960's, Boggs and her husband became very involved in the Black Power movement, notably offering Malcom X a place to stay whenever he visited Detroit. At this time, she identified much more closely with Malcom X than Martin Luther King Jr. "Like most black power activists, I tended to view King's concepts of non-violence and Beloved Community as somewhat naïve and sentimental," as she describes in her recent speech entitled, Catching up with Martin."

But in 1967, when race violence gripped the city of Detroit and elsewhere in the nation, Boggs began to see what was missing in the Black Power movement and look toward the example of King as a more effective template for cultural revolution. "We could no longer separate ethics from politics or view revolutionary struggle simply in terms of us vs. them...The absence of this philosophical/spiritual dimension in the Black Power struggles of the 1960s helps to explain why these struggles ended up in the opportunism, drug abuse, and interpersonal violence..."

What the papers called race riots, she called "rebellions," yet it was this pivotal event that helped her to learn that rebellion is not enough. "It was amazing - a turning point in my life, because until that time, I had not made the distinction between a rebellion and a revolution." She extrapolates on this idea in REVOLUTION AND EVOLUTION IN THE 20TH CENTURY, which she wrote with her husband in 1974:

"Rebellions tend to be negative, to denounce and expose the enemy without providing a positive vision of a new future...A revolution is not just for the purpose of correcting past injustices, a revolution involves a projection of man/woman into the future...It begins with projecting the notion of a more human human being, i.e. a human being who is more advanced in the specific qualities which only human beings have - creativity, consciousness and self-consciousness, a sense of political and social responsibility."

Grace Lee Boggs has since dedicated her life to helping to realize King's vision of Beloved Community in her hometown of Detroit and elsewhere around the country, one grassroots protect at a time. In 1992, with James Boggs, who passed away in 1993, Shea Howell and others, she founded DETROIT SUMMER, "a multicultural, intergenerational youth program to rebuild, redefine and respirit Detroit from the ground up." The organization is coming upon its 15th season this summer.

Her autobiography, LIVING FOR CHANGE, published by the University of Minnesota Press in March l998, is widely used in university classes on social movements. In 2004, she helped organize the Beloved Communities Project, "an initiative begun to identify, explore and form a network of communities committed to and practicing the profound pursuit of justice, radical inclusivity, democratic governance, health and wholeness, and social / individual transformation."

"I think we're not looking sufficiently at what is happening at the grassroots in the country. We have not emphasized sufficiently the cultural revolution that we have to make among ourselves in order to force the government to do differently. Things do not start with governments."

DETROIT SUMMER at Work in a Garden

References and Reading:
Historical Reference: Race, Rebellion and Detroit

Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence - by Martin Luther King Jr., April 4, 1967 at the Riverside Church in New York City
"I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join with you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam. The recent statement of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: 'A time comes when silence is betrayal.' That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam."

"A Time of Violence and Tragedy"
TIME, Aug. 4, 1967
"To the rest of the world, the televised glimpses of unsheathed bayonets, rumbling tanks and fire-gutted blocks in the heart of Detroit made it look as if the U.S. were on the edge of anarchy."

Detroit Public Television: Bridging the Racial Divide
"It's been called the most important topic in Southeast Michigan...relations between the races in the most segregated metropolitan region in the country. And Bridging the Racial Divide, an innovative approach to dealing with this vital subject, is currently reaching audiences across Metro Detroit."

The Detroit Historical Society
"Since its founding in 1921, the Detroit Historical Society has been dedicated to ensuring that the history of the region is preserved so that current and future generations of Detroiters can better understand the people, places and events that helped shape our lives."

Crime Among Our People
A pamphlet written by Grace Lee Boggs and James Boggs in 1972 as a response to the growing violence in Detroit and other black communities. The pamphlet is subtitled: "Or a revolutionary proposal for regenerating Community."

The Beloved Community Projects

The Boggs Center
"For nearly forty years, the Boggs' home has been a community center and think-tank drawing together individuals and organizations from diverse backgrounds. People from around the world have come to create and discuss visions and strategies relating to local community struggles, workers' movements, and global campaigns for social justice. Today, the second floor of the building serves as the offices and meeting space of the Boggs Center and includes a small boarding area."

Detroit: City of Hope
A digital meeting place for organizations concerned with the betterment of the city of Detroit.

Detroit Summer
Grace Lee Boggs along with her husband James and Shea Howell and others founded this 'multicultural, intergenerational youth program to rebuild, redefine and respirit Detroit from the ground up.' The organization is coming upon its 15th season this summer."

Picture the Homeless
One of Grace Lee Boggs' Beloved Community organizations located in The Bronx. "Picture the Homeless was founded on principle that homeless people have civil and human rights regardless of race, creed, color or economic status. It was founded and is led by homeless people." On the Web site, you'll find information about the many campaigns being conducted by the organization, such as the Potter's Field Initiative, which is trying to secure the homeless access to Potters Field (on Hart Island, NY) in order to memorialize their loved ones."

The Poverty Truth Commission
This forum organized by the Poverty Initiative of the Union Theological Seminary, was created in order to hear the testimonies of those most affected by poverty in this region. Grace Lee Boggs served as one of the commissioners hearing testimony from a variety of grass roots organizers and people affected by poverty."

Other Resources and Reference

The Michigan Citizen
Grace Lee Boggs writes a weekly column entitled "Fresh Ideas" for the Citizen. You can read many of her recent columns on The Boggs Center website.

Growing Power
"Growing Power, Inc. is a non-profit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds and the environment in which they live by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food. This mission is implemented by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach and technical assistance through the development of Community Food Systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner."

The Grace Lee Project
"When Korean American filmmaker Grace Lee was growing up in Missouri, she was the only Grace Lee she knew. Once she left the Midwest however, everyone she met seemed to know 'another Grace Lee.' But why did they assume that all Grace Lees were reserved, dutiful, piano-playing overachievers? The filmmaker plunges into a funny, highly unscientific investigation into all those Grace Lees who break the mold -- from a fiery social activist to a rebel who tried to burn down her high school. With wit and charm, THE GRACE LEE PROJECT puts a hilarious spin on the eternal question, 'What's in a name?'.".

Photo by Robin Holland

Also This Week:

A Bill Moyers Essay on the justifications and consequences of a presidential pardon of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

The President of Service Employees International Union, the fastest growing union in the nation, weighs in on the growing economic gap between average families and the wealthiest Americans.

Bill Moyers talks with 91 year old activist, Grace Lee Boggs, about the cultural revolution brewing in our country at the grassroots level.

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