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Activist Grace Lee Boggs Dead at 100

Image: Grace Lee Boggs pictured with husband, activist Jimmy Boggs

Grace Lee Boggs, a philosopher and activist who had played important roles in civil rights organizing for several decades, died Monday at her home in Detroit. She was 100.

“Grace died as she lived surrounded by books, politics, people and ideas,” said Alice Jennings and Shea Howell, two of her Trustees.

Through her writing and organizing with her husband, the late Jimmy Boggs, she participated in almost every major social movement in the US since the 1940s, including labor rights, Black Power, women’s rights, environmental justice, anti-war, and anti-capitalist movements.

“This extraordinary woman, who over the course of her life, has given so much to the struggle–not only to the struggle in Detroit but also to the struggle across the globe,” wrote Danny Glover in a foreword for Boggs’ most recent book.

Born to Chinese immigrants in 1915, Boggs pursued an academic career in philosophy, receiving her Bachelor’s degree from Barnard College in 1935 and her PhD from Bryn Mawr College in 1940.

Grace began organizing for tenant’s rights and Black rights after moving into Black tenements in Chicago in the 1940s. During this time, she began political relationships with Black revolutionaries including C.L.R. James and Jimmy Boggs, who she married and moved to Detroit with in 1953.

In Detroit, Grace helped organize the 1963 march for Martin Luther King, Jr., where he gave the first delivery of his “I Have a Dream Speech.” She also organized the Grassroots Leadership Conference, where Malcolm X gave his “Message to the Grassroots” speech later that year.

Together, Grace and Jimmy offered space for radical activists in Detroit and around the country. Their study groups and organizing spanned from prior to the 1967 rebellion in Detroit, through the tenure of  former mayor Coleman Young, and the city’s crack epidemic.

Placing a premium on grassroots organizing, Grace and Jimmy founded Detroit Summer in 1992.

“Through Detroit Summer, urban youth of a lost post-1960s generation, whom many adults and come to shun, fear, and ultimately blame for so many ills, became a part of the solution to Detroit’s problems,” Grace wrote.

Following her husband’s passing in 1993, Grace found herself cast more into the spotlight. New generations were exposed to Grace’s life and ideas through her books “Living for Change: An Autobiography” (1998), “The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century” (2011), and the 2013 documentary about her life American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.” Through decades of activism, Detroit remained at the heart of Grace’s work.

“Grace had a deep concern for the current situation in Detroit where thousands of people are without water, where the city government is refusing to even acknowledge the dimensions of this tragedy and where the desire to turn downtown into a playground for whiter, wealthier people at the expense of neighborhoods is moving ahead with the full force of corporate power,” friend and organizer Shea Howell said.

Howell said that honoring Grace’s legacy involves taking individual and collective action.

“Grace never wanted to be celebrated for what she had done. She was always thinking about what we must do–today and tomorrow.”