Continuously advocating for revolution until her passing, Grace Lee Boggs was a feminist, climate advocate, human rights activist, and fighter for labor and civil rights. Her story demonstrates the resiliency of an Asian American female activist fighting through economic recessions, racial injustices, and social change.
Grace Lee Boggs was born in 1915 to two Chinese immigrants. She grew up in New York and by 1940, earned a doctorate in philosophy. Living through the Great Depression and finding herself in the aftermath of it, Boggs found herself in an environment with the need for change. Being turned away from numerous jobs as an Asian American, she was forced to live in a rat-infested home. Fighting for housing improvements was the entry point into the world of activism for her. She began marching and fighting for females and people of color while discovering her own political stance.
Finding herself drawn to different branches of socialist organizations, she became a part of the Johnson-Forest Tendency. As a Johnsonite she stood with the belief that power and liberation should lie with the working class. To join the growing Johnsonite community in Detroit, Boggs moved there in 1953. In Detroit, she found intellectuals that shared similar beliefs with her but also her partner in activism and husband James Boggs, a black autoworker and fellow Johnsonite.
Together, they fought for black communities’ rights and continued advocating for females and other marginalized groups. At this point they slowly departed from socialism, but their fight for change did not stop. Grace Lee Boggs joined the Great Walk to Free in Detroit, hosted Malcolm X, and even attended Save Our Sons and Daughters meetings.
She continued working in her community in Detroit and with her husband, and created the program, Detroit Summer, to bring together the community that was facing an influx of crime. Detroit Summer worked to empower youth, inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.. Through the organization, the people of Detroit created community gardens, repurposed and renovated the city, and built leaders who continued to vision through their own lives.
Even after her husband’s passing in 1993, Grace Lee Boggs did not slow down her steps to fight. She continued to be involved in fighting for change in Detroit. She wrote for newspapers, talked to civic groups and college students, and even wrote her own books. Later, she turned the second floor of her home into the Boggs Center and founded the James and Grace Lee Boggs School. There, she incorporated lessons and curriculum focused on empowering youth in Detroit through teaching community-orientated skills.
In 2015, Grace Lee Boggs, age 100, passed away. In the words of past President Barack Obama, “As the child of Chinese immigrants and as a woman, Grace learned early on that the world needed changing, and she overcame barriers to do just that. She understood the power of community organizing at its core – the importance of bringing about change and getting people involved to shape their own destiny.”
Grace Lee Boggs left a legacy as a grassroots activist, philosopher, and author. She spent her life fighting for Asian American communities, Black communities, females, and the working class. Let us take this Asian American Heritage Month to recognize the remarkable work Grace Lee Boggs has done for marginalized communities, Detroit, and America as a whole.
Author: Audrey Zhou
In Honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
We are bringing you the stories of inspirational Asian Americans from history.
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