Rosa parks


Grace Lee Boggs 1915-2015

Jimmy and Grace

Grace Lee Boggs

Dear Friends of Grace Lee Boggs,
We want to thank all of you who have joined us in celebrating the extraordinary life and legacy of Grace Lee Boggs. Your generosity, words, and encouragement were shared with Grace every day.We have been deeply moved by the tremendous outpouring of love, reflection and honor for Grace. We are sharing a few of the pieces that we think have captured not only Grace’s life, but the challenges she continues to raise for us as we seek a new America.

We are planning a memorial in Detroit on October 31 at 11:00 at the IBEW.  Details are below.


To the Boggs Center and family,

I was very saddened to learn about the death of Grace Lee Boggs, and wanted to share with you how much Grace meant to us:

Grace was not only a legend and a symbol of something – her reflections and writings were some of the most wise and grounded advice I ever received as a community activist. The idea for [R]Evolution, the idea that it is not enough to tear down a bad system but that we have to be ready and able to build a better one, changed the way I work in Haiti. Instead of spending all of my energy fighting against the powers that be, I am trying to grow power in my community so that we can fight together. I am working to find and build leaders who don’t just show up for protests, but who will be ready to do the hard, day-to-day work of building a better system. Grace’s ideas helped me to see my role in the struggle in a new way, and if I am still here today fighting, I can say that is in part thanks to the wisdom of Grace Lee Boggs.

Grace and Jimmy also meant something important to my wife Sabina and I, as we found a lot of inspiration in their story: I am a young Haitian community leader coming from one of the most marginalized parts of the country – I worked in factories growing up, and led social movements in my community. My wife is an American who moved to Haiti after the earthquake, and had to learn how to support the struggles in my community without disrupting or co-opting them. When we learned about the story of Grace and Jimmy, we identified with so many of their struggles, their victories, and their challenges.

Both Sabina and I enrolled in an alternative program for community development leaders (called the Future Generations Graduate School), and spent a week in Detroit to learn about social change. We studied Grace and Jimmy’s writings beforehand, were hosted by the Boggs Center, and had the honor of meeting Grace one afternoon. It was in many ways like meeting a legend, but it was also like seeing an old friend. We felt very connected to Grace by the nature of our struggles, even though they took place thousands of miles apart. And now that she is gone, we have to recognize that she planted seeds of change in all of us, and it is up to us to nurture them so that the revolution she imagined can continue to grow.

I want you all to know that in Haiti, Sabina and I will do everything we can to honor Grace’s life and her message – we have already planted a tree in her name, and will keep fighting for [r]evolution.

Louino (Robi) ROBILLARD,

“Activism can be the journey rather than the arrival.” – Grace Lee Boggs

The (R)evolutionary Vision and Contagious Optimism of Grace Lee Boggs
Barbara Ransby

Grace Lee Boggs died yesterday at the age of 100 and the world is better for the century that she walked it with us. As a writer, insurgent intellectual, revolutionary organizer, mentor, community builder and friend to many, Grace will be dearly missed.When I was a teenager in Detroit and a wannabe revolutionary in the 1970s I heard the names Grace and Jimmy Boggs all the time. I knew they were beloved and respected in Detroit’s Black activist community, and I just assumed they were both Black. I was surprised to finally meet Grace and discover she was Chinese-American. I had to recalibrate my notions about the Black struggle, “my people” and race itself.

Long after many of Detroit’s young black revolutionaries left Detroit and the revolution, Grace stayed. She was so immersed in the life and struggles of Detroit’s predominately Black communities that she said her FBI file described her as “probably Afro-Chinese.” Alongside her partner in life and politics, former auto-worker and black activist and leader, Jimmy Boggs (who died in 1993), Grace fought the good fight over five decades, writing books, building organizations, organizing campaigns, and teaching by example that “revolution” is a protracted process-not a single event or a spate of protests. She saw the Black struggle as the cutting-edge struggle of her lifetime, intricately linked to many others, and she was humbled to be a part of it.

Grace was also a catalyst for bringing people together. The Boggs Center, which she founded, was a creative space for artists, the young participants in the now-famous “Detroit Summer” projects and various fans and visitors who migrated there to pay their respects to Grace. Those visitors included celebrities and scholars from the late Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, to Danny Glover, historian Robin D.G. Kelley, and Chicago activists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.

But there were also lesser-known filmmakers, hip-hop artists, labor organizers, students and politicians that showed up at Grace’s door over the decades, drawn by the power of her reputation and her track record for getting things done. Her beloved chosen family in Detroit included her longtime friend and comrade, Shea Howell, whose devotion to Grace was unmatched; Rich Feldman; former Black Panther and organizer, Ron Scott; the activist and artist, Ill; dream hampton; the poet and tireless organizer Tawana Petty and many more surrounded her with so much love and nurturing support that I am sure she never felt alone.

Many people will remember Grace as gentle, kind and generous. She was all those things. But I want her to also be remembered as a rigorous intellectual and a fierce thinker and analyst. She took ideas seriously. She wrote or co-wrote numerous books, articles and position papers; she lectured and talked about complex theories of culture, community and change. She was trained as a philosopher. As a Marxist, she worked alongside the brilliant Trinidadian intellectual C.L.R. James in various Trotskyist organizations before eventually splitting, as so many such groups did and still do, over ideological differences.

Most importantly, she was not a part of an elite intelligentsia. She lived in a modest little house on an even more modest income. She never held a tenured university job. She believed that ordinary people, not academics, had the power to understand their lives and to change the world with that understanding.

Jimmy Boggs was her intellectual hero. She once wrote of her time working with C.L.R. James, “Whether or not you were an intellectual, you felt that when you participated in a demonstration or asked probing questions about life or society, you were helping to create important ideas.” This was the root of her radical epistemology, borrowed from Boggs and James and Antonio Gramsci.

During her century of life, love and work, Grace lived what she believed and served as an example and inspiration for many of us. Even when you did not always agree with her, you had to love her. She always had that beautiful smile on her face and you knew that her love for humanity was so strong and deep that it was a generative force for creating change.

She often wore a t-shirt that read “(r)evolution.” It suggested that we are all evolving as people as we fight, build and envision revolution. Grace was a visionary and a doer. She could look at a trash-strewn field and imagine a garden. And then, she would work to transform it. She could look at Detroit’s broken down buildings and imagine new possibilities.

And she could look at all of us, her friends, comrades and fellow travelers of various stripes, flawed and fragmented, and she could imagine us as a whole. She could meet a scruffy little kid with no skills, no hope and no place to go, and imagine that he or she would become a poet, a revolutionary or brilliant scientist. This was the lens through which Grace saw the world and her optimism was contagious.

In 2010 at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, a gathering of thousands of progressives from around the country, Grace was center stage in a plenary conversation with Immanuel Wallerstein. At 95, she was sharp, lucid and on point. She would often joke and say, “I’ve lost some of my hearing and a little bit of a lot of other things, but I still have all my marbles.” She certainly did.

Grace Lee Boggs made every year and every moment count. The best tribute we can pay to our dear Grace is to “grow our souls,” as she once wrote, and keep her optimistic and generous spirit close to our hearts in all the work we do and in all the battles we fight. Barbara Ransby

[Barbara Ransby is a professor of history at the University of Illinois-Chicago, the author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision and a founder of the activist group Ella’s Daughters.]

[Reprinted with permission from In These Times. All rights reserved.]

Remembering Grace Lee Boggs and her role in the black freedom struggle
Kate Aronoff

President Obama joined many this week in commemorating the life of Grace Lee Boggs, the organizer, philosopher and long-time Detroit resident who passed away yesterday at age 100. “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,” Obama eulogized. “Grace’s passion for helping others, and her work to rejuvenate communities that had fallen on hard times spanned her remarkable 100 years of life, and will continue to inspire generations to come.”

Such kind words from the Oval Office might have surprised a younger Boggs, who spent years writing — like most socialists of her day — under a pseudonym designed to protect against the virulent red-baiting that loomed over the post-war American left.

Today, Boggs is perhaps most popularly remembered for her work later in life, building up community institutions throughout Detroit: the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership, the Detroit Summer program, a number of cooperative businesses and community gardens, even a charter school named in her honor. Less memorialized are Boggs and her late husband James’ deep involvement in the development of their city’s black freedom movement, and foundational role in articulating a new brand of class politics rooted in the experience of black workers.

During World War II, African Americans in the South migrated north to Detroit’s “Arsenal of Democracy,” where defense contracts offered steady, lucrative employment seemingly outside the grasp of Jim Crow. In all, 1.5 million African Americans left the South between 1940 and 1950, a time period during which Detroit’s black population more than doubled. Northern whites — eager to maintain racially homogenous neighborhoods and workforces — fought new arrivals, organizing bands of vigilantes to terrorize new black Detroiters. Tensions culminated in the city’s brutal riot of 1943, where 25 of the 34 people killed were African American, along with 75 percent of the 700 injured. As the war economy slowed, workers of color were relegated not only to divested areas of the city, but some of the most dangerous, poorly-paid work the Motor City had to offer.

In the 1970 documentary “Finally Got the News,” one worker recalled the treatment of a colleague who “lost his finger at the second knuckle.” After receiving $3,000, his supervisors “wanted him to come back to work two days later … producing with the bandages and all that.” Such violence and flagrant discrimination in jobs and housing catalyzed a vibrant culture of organizing in black Detroit — much of it, early on, stemming from churches and radical congregations, like that of the legendary preacher Albert Cleague.

Boggs followed an entirely different path to Detroit. While she boasted a PhD in philosophy from Bryn Mawr, the academic job market for young Chinese-American women in the 1940s was none too kind. Unable to find work as a professor, Grace Lee — not yet Boggs — took a job in a University of Chicago library, and quickly started organizing tenants to take on the city’s slumlords. Getting increasingly involved in Chicago’s socialist party politics, Lee followed theorist and “Black Jacobins” author C.L.R. James to New York, where she, James and Raya Dunayevskaya coalesced around a shared distrust for Soviet-style “state capitalism” and a commitment to the centrality of black workers’ struggle.

She met James “Jimmy” Boggs in 1952 through working on the group’s left paper, Correspondence. He was an autoworker who’d moved from Alabama to Detroit to work in the factories and, as Grace Lee Boggs recalled of her husband in her 1998 autobiography, he “was a prototype of the kind of individual for whom the newsletter was being created.” Less than a year after their first encounter at a Correspondance-run school for rank-and-file workers in 1952, Boggs and Lee married and moved to Detroit.

Together, the Boggses and their intellectual collaborators within the Johnson-Forrest Tendency pioneered what they called the “proletarianization of philosophy,” an effort to make the high-theory innards of Marxist thought accessible to workers on the frontlines of Fordism’s lost promise. While they would split from James in the early 1960s, the couple continued to nurture the political development of some of the black freedom movement’s most influential leaders, including Revolutionary Action Movement founder Max Stanford, leaders in the lesser-known League of Revolutionary Black Workers, and even — to a lesser extent — native Michigander Malcolm X.

They were part of a group of intellectuals who ran discussion groups for autoworkers on Marx’s Capital and other texts, and frequently opened their homes to young organizers eager to work through questions of power and strategy until the hours of the morning. “More often than not,” historian Peniel Joseph wrote, “the discussions turned into seminars in which the veteran activists demanded sharp analysis and concrete facts. Jimmy would ask questions that were difficult to answer: If the revolution was to succeed, how would the new society look? What would black people’s place in it be, and what kinds of jobs, government and society would exist?”
In “Faith in the City,” a history of 20th century black organizing in Detroit, Angela Dillard wrote that, “If cross-generational influence was indeed key to the development of political radicalism in 1960s Detroit, Grace Lee and James Boggs personified that influence.”

Boggs was so deeply enmeshed in Detroit’s black organizing scene, in fact, that the FBI once mistakenly referred to her as “Afro-Chinese.” Through the end of her life, Boggs provided a rare model of an “engaged intellectual,” never losing sight of the relationship between the movements that surrounded her, the conditions they emerged from and the theoretical rigor that could drive them forward. What’s more, the writing that emerged from this ecology is an almost eerie preview of debates that would captivate progressives for the next half-century: the role of race, democracy and solidarity within industrial unionism, and how emergent movements for black liberation map onto fights for justice in the workplace.

Referencing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech, Boggs wrote in 1942 that “Thirteen million Negroes in America have never known three of the ‘Four Freedoms’ which America is supposedly spreading to the rest of the world.” She called the freedom from want “a mockery … when their wages are the lowest and their rents and food prices the highest.” Commenting on an early (and ultimately successful) planned march on Washington to eliminate segregation in arms manufacturing, Boggs argued fervently against any approach that would focus singly on either race or class: “Whether the [March on Washington] movement proves transitory or develops into a broad and relatively permanent movement for Negro democratic and economic rights will depend upon whether it will develop a leadership which seeks its main support in the organized labor movement and whether the Negro masses in the labor movement are ready to enter into and actively support this general movement for Negro rights as a supplement to their economic and class activities within the unions themselves.”

As she aged, Boggs’s “dialectical humanism,” which had always placed a strong emphasis on the value of personal transformation, drifted further away from traditional class politics and toward a focus on the moral and cultural dimensions of social change work. As she told Bill Moyers in 2007, “We have not emphasized sufficiently the cultural revolution that we have to make among ourselves in order to force the government to do differently.” Nevertheless, she died — by all accounts — surrounded by a community she worked for over six decades to build. Her theoretical contributions and movement-building work continue to find voice in some of today’s most influential uprisings.

As Barbara Ransby recently argued in Dissent, a close attention to economic inequality lies at the heart of today’s movement for black life: “In speech after speech, the leading voices of this movement have insisted that if we liberate the black poor, or if the black poor liberate themselves, we will uplift everybody else who’s been kept down.” Ransby noted that some of the most visible leaders in the movement for black lives have spent years honing their skills and analysis in organized labor. “The larger left has to support, recognize and embrace Black Lives Matter, not as secondary, but as central and potentially catalytic for a broad and far-reaching transformative agenda.” Like Boggs, Ransby makes clear that there’s no contradiction in building movements for racial and economic justice: the two, in many ways, are already one in the same.


Thinking for Ourselves
No Moral Difference
Shea Howell
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder finally gave the go ahead for the City of Flint to reconnect to the Detroit water supply.  In a press conference flanked by the head of the Mott Foundation, public health and environmental appointees, Snyder said he was “in full support of the return to the Great Lakes Water Authority.”This decision came almost a year and a half after people in Flint launched a vigorous campaign against the decision to leave the Detroit water system, now called the GLWA.

Let us be clear. The only reason Snyder is acknowledging the problem with the water in Flint is because people organized to do their own water testing.  Time after time, official after official told people the water was safe to drink.  Defying common sense and daily experiences of illness, rashes, foul smell, discoloration, and particles in the water, public officials often mocked citizen concern and scientific evidence.

What the situation in Flint makes vividly clear is that public authority in Michigan has no moral sense. Their first response to the concerns of people should have been to immediately stop the switch to the Flint River.  Their first response should have been to protect people at the hint of a possible problem.

Instead, they were willing to risk disaster. Speaking only of financial “savings,” they put at risk an entire city and the eco-system on which it depends in danger.

This was all predictable. Cities have been delivering water to their people for thousands of years. We have a vast body of knowledge about the corrosive effects of different water sources and the interaction with pipes. Snyder and his appointees chose to ignore this.

We need to know just why the Governor and the State legislature decided to create another water authority in Michigan.  Who is benefiting from this decision? Why is it more efficient to build this new system, especially when many of the pipes are running right on top of those of the Detroit System? Who is making money on this deal? To what extent was this decision tied to forcing the Detroit bankruptcy and the formation of a new Water Authority in the control of white suburban appointees?

Snyder makes much of his raising $12 million to help Flint switch back to Detroit water. But the truth is this switch will take a few hours and not cost much. The $12 million is the price Flint has paid to Detroit for years for water from the city. The real new cost is that of the new Karegnondi Water Authority that Flint citizens are being asked to pay for through yet another bond issue to big banks.

State officials cannot be trusted with our children, our lives, or our water.

This week in Detroit the so-called Blue Ribbon Committee will meet to look at water affordability. They should look closely at was has happened in Flint.  There has been no sign from the Governor that he understands that the crime of poisoning children with lead is linked to the crime of cutting off water to people. He has continued to insist on unsustainable pricing policy that is deadly and destructive. There is no moral difference between giving children poisoned water and not giving them any water at all.


for more info: 313.399.7345 or 313.903.2258
Watch Peace Zones for Life founder, Ron Scott, address an audience at “In Pursuit of Policing and Criminal Justice Reform,” part of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 45th annual Legislative Conference, held in the Washington Convention Center.
(Scott’s introduction begins at the 1:19 mark)

bioneers 2015

Dear Friends of the Boggs Center,It’s never too late to make a tax-deductible donation (click on the yellow ‘donate’ button on the right-side of the page) to the Boggs Center. Over the last year, we have been part of the new energy emerging in our country. With each passing day, it is clear that the world as we have know it is disappearing. It is up to all of us to create new of ways of living and being that affirm life and restore the earth.

We have much work to do in the year ahead. We know we have a profound responsibility to contribute to the emerging movements that hold the promise of creating a new country, based on values that reflect our deepest aspirations for justice and peace.

This year we plan to:

  • Deepen our organizing on the East Side, working toward models of new life and work.
  • Establish Peace Zones for Life in response to the militarization of police power.
  • Maintain and refurbish the Boggs Center, creating a new collaborative creative space.
We ask for your support by sending a check toBoggs Center
3061 Field Street
Detroit, MI

Or by donating online here. (click on the yellow ‘donate’ button on the right-side of the page)In Love and Struggle,

The Boggs Center

The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership.

3061 Field Street
Detroit, Michigan 48214